Updated 11:41 a.m. - The Senate's top Democrat said Thursday that he was pessimistic that Washington could avoid the impending fiscal cliff, accusing House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, of running the lower chamber as a "dictatorship."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he was unsure there was enough time between now and the end of the year to reach a deal to avoid the combination of spending cuts and tax hikes set to take effect on Jan. 1. Reid said "the only viable escape route" was for the GOP-controlled House to give its approval to a Senate bill that would preserve existing tax rates on income under $250,000.
"Everyone knows that if they had brought up the Senate-passed bill, it would pass overwhelmingly. But the speaker says, no we can't do that," Reid said on the Senate floor this morning. "It's [the House] being operated by a dictatorship of the speaker."
In response, a spokesman for Boehner said in a statement, "Senator Reid should talk less and legislate more. The House has already passed legislation to avoid the entire fiscal cliff. Senate Democrats have not."
Reid's remarks suggest there has been no thaw in the stalemate that has plagued Washington for weeks, as consensus continues to elude Republicans and Democrats on averting the fiscal cliff. Amid the standoff, President Barack Obama called Reid and Boehner (along with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell) late Wednesday from Hawaii. The president traveled back to the White House on Thursday following his brief family vacation.
"The leader is happy to review what the president has in mind, but to date, the Senate Democrat majority has not put forward a plan," said a spokesman for McConnell. "When they do, members on both sides of the aisle will review the legislation and make decisions on how best to proceed."
Both parties departed Washington on poor terms, a political chasm widened last week by Boehner's unsuccessful pitch of "Plan B" legislation meant to extend tax rates on income under $1 million. Obama had vowed to veto it, and Boehner's backup plan was generally regarded as more of a negotiating ploy than a comprehensive solution to the impending fiscal cliff. Nonetheless, conservatives balked at the speaker's plan, laying bare Boehner's ability to rally most Republicans behind any deal that even hinted at raising taxes.
And just five days before the onset of the fiscal cliff, Washington was locked in little more than a staring match between the House and Senate.
Republican leaders said in a joint statement on Wednesday that the Senate must amend Republican-passed legislation and return it to the House before any steps can be taken.
"The House will take this action on whatever the Senate can pass, but the Senate first must act," the GOP leaders said.
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