Congress summoned to Capitol
Members of Congress are returning to the Capitol for a Sunday session in which U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., said he hoped the Senate would act on one of the measures already passed by the House.
House Speaker John Boehner called the House back into session after a conference call with members on Thursday and President Barack Obama planned to meet with congressional leaders at the White House today.
Boehner’s call back to the Capitol was a welcome one, Tipton said, noting that many in Congress have been frustrated by the “gamesmanship” in the standoff over whether to go over the fiscal cliff — a statutory deadline that raises taxes across the board and forces spending cuts in the new year.
“I think we’ve been pretty clear, and arguably, the president has as well” about the direction the country should take, Tipton said.
Obama has called for increasing income, capital-gains and other taxes for couples earning $250,000 annually. A proposal by Boehner would have set the level at $1 million.
The House in August passed a measure that would leave the current tax structure as it is, averting the fiscal-cliff debate.
“We’re not hearing a lot of response out of the Senate,” Tipton said.
In the conference call with members, Boehner said he had reached out to Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, urging them to “amend, kill or send your own bill” to the House and allow the legislative process to work, Tipton said.
Administration officials confirmed this morning’s meeting at the White House in a bare-bones announcement that said the president would “host a meeting.”
An aide to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said the Kentucky lawmaker “is eager to hear from the president.”
A spokesman for Boehner issued a statement that said the Ohio Republican would attend and “continue to stress that the House has already passed legislation to avert the entire fiscal cliff and now the Senate must act.”
While there was no guarantee of a compromise, Republicans and Democrats said privately elements of any agreement would likely include an extension of middle-class tax cuts with increased rates at upper incomes as well as cancellation of the scheduled spending cuts. An extension of expiring unemployment benefits, a reprieve for doctors who face a cut in Medicare payments and possibly a short-term measure to prevent dairy prices from soaring could also become part of a year-end bill, they said.
That would postpone politically contentious disputes over spending cuts for 2013.
Top Senate leaders said they remain ready to seek a last-minute agreement. Yet there was no legislation pending and no sign of negotiations in either the House or the Senate on a bill to prevent the tax hikes and spending cuts that economists say could send the economy into a recession.
Far from conciliatory, the rhetoric was confrontational and at times unusually personal.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., accused Boehner of running a “dictatorship,” citing his refusal to call a vote on legislation to keep taxes steady for most while letting them rise at upper incomes. The bill “would pass overwhelmingly,” Reid predicted, and said the Ohio Republican won’t change his mind because he fears it might cost him re-election as speaker when the new Congress convenes next week.
Boehner seems “to care more about keeping his speakership than keeping the nation on a firm financial footing,” he said in remarks on the Senate floor.
A few hours later, McConnell expressed frustration and blamed the standoff on Obama and the Democrats. “Republicans have bent over backwards. We stepped way, way out of our comfort zone,” he said, referring to GOP offers to accept higher rates on some taxpayers.
“We wanted an agreement, but we had no takers. The phone never rang, and so here we are five days from the new year and we might finally start talking,” McConnell said.
Still, he warned: “Republicans aren’t about to write a blank check for anything the Democrats put forward just because we find ourselves at the edge of the cliff.”
Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Boehner, responded in a similar vein to Reid’s comments. “Harry Reid should talk less and legislate more if he wants to avert the fiscal cliff. The House has already passed legislation to do so,” he said, referring to a measure that extends existing cuts at all income levels.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.