Every Day They're Scuffling: Congress Set for Battle in Next Spending Showdown
With Congress planning to leave the nation's capital for a five-week summer recess next week, lawmakers are in the midst of yet another partisan scuffle as each party digs further into its political trenches in the country's spending crisis.
At question is a slate of expiring provisions in the federal tax code, in addition to $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts set to take effect on January 1, 2012.
Time is not a luxury. Although five months remain on the calendar until the Fiscal Cliff drops, lawmakers are not scheduled to meet for most of August or October, convening for just 17 more days of legislative business before Election Day on November 6.
To date, only the House has passed an alternative to the sequester cuts, and only the Senate has passed a tax proposal, although House Republicans are primed to extend all of the current tax rates next week, including tax cuts for the wealthiest taxpayers, for another year.
But in a bicameral body, it takes two chambers to tango and so far neither party has found an eager dance partner.
Today, House Speaker John Boehner, who told reporters that he has not personally spoken with President Obama any time lately, said the president is "nowhere to be found on the issue" and implored him to "drop your plan to increase their taxes on January the 1 st."
"Only Republicans have offered plans to address these threats, yet it was the president who came up with the sequester because he didn't want the debt limit to get in the way of his campaign," Boehner, R-Ohio, said. "The president may be checked out to the point that he hasn't been able to meet with his jobs council, but the American people are continuing to ask the question, 'Where are the jobs?' and they expect us to work on this no matter where we are in the campaign or what time of the year it is."
Wednesday, the Senate voted 51-47 to approve a plan to extend the current tax rates for taxpayers earning less than $250,000 per year.
While Boehner held his news conference this morning, the Senate Democratic leadership simultaneously called on the speaker to take up the Senate's tax bill.
"The American people should understand that we're one vote away from passing this legislation," Reid, D-Nev., said. "Speaker Boehner should have this same vote in the House of Representatives."
Boehner maintains that if House Democrats want to vote on the Senate-passed bill, he intends to allow such a vote.
"If our Democrat colleagues want to offer the president's plan or the Senate Democrat plan, we're more than happy to give them a vote," the speaker promised. "We'll see what [alternative] they'll offer in the Rules committee, but it's our belief that they ought to be able to have the vote."
Although the Democratic proposal is unlikely to pass in the GOP-controlled House, once each chamber demonstrates what type of resolution it is able to produce on its own, a bipartisan, bicameral discussion will likely ensue in order to strike a compromise and avoid 'Taxmageddon' looming at the end of the year.
Senate Democrats also questioned why House Republicans are planning to have a vote on full extension since a plan like that failed to pass in the Senate.
"What the Republicans end up doing is defining a small group of very wealthy people who help fund their party who are vehement in the view that they shouldn't pay any taxes at all," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY., said. "The speaker now finds himself in a box. The Senate has spoken, its message is clear, put the middle class first, pass the Senate bill first."
After sending a letter to Boehner and the chairs of each committee calling for the start of bipartisan negotiations before Congress goes on recess next week, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said today that "the urgency is intensified."
"We cannot risk just even having a conversation that would suggest that we're not going to do the responsible budgetary things," Pelosi, D-Calif., said. "It's a bitter pill to swallow for everyone. We don't want the defense cuts, and we don't want the domestic cuts. We've already done over a trillion dollars in domestic cuts and plenty defense cuts as well. All we need to have is revenue and balance on the table so that we can find more cuts but we can have the revenue piece of it."
The Senate also approved a House-passed measure to direct the Office of Management and Budget to report within 30 days to Congress on its plans to implement the sequester.
Asked whether he will begin bipartisan negotiations to replace the sequester before the House recesses next week, Boehner said "it's the fair thing to do for the American people and I think clearly Congress has a right to know," how OMB plans to implement the $1.2 trillion in cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act.
Michael Steel, press secretary to the speaker, later clarified that answer by maintaining that "the next step is for the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate to pass a plan," before lawmakers are assigned to go to conference to resolve their differences.
"At this point, given that the House has passed a bill, there is absolutely nothing to be gained by negotiating with House Democrats," Steel said. "We do, of course, hope they will share their concerns with [Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid], who said he will not 'back off' the sequester, despite the threat it poses to America's national security."
ABC News' Sunlen Miller contributed to this report