WASHINGTON — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday that with mere hours to go until the country hits the fiscal cliff, the two sides are “very, very close to an agreement,” echoing earlier remarks by President Barack Obama. McConnell urged the Senate to proceed with a vote to avoid a tax hike and leave the sequester for later debate.
McConnell has been negotiating with Vice President Joe Biden since talks with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid broke down this weekend. He said the two have been going back and forth throughout the day — they spoke Saturday and at 12:45 a.m Sunday morning, and then again at 6:30 a.m. and several more times throughout the morning.
They engaged in what McConnell called “a good faith negotiation.”
“I’m happy to report that the effort has been a successful one and, as the president just said in his television appearance, we’re very, very close to an agreement,” McConnell said on the Senate floor shortly before 3:00 p.m., just over nine hours before the country will go off the fiscal cliff.
The two have agreed on a deal that would extend the current tax rates for individuals earning under $400,000 per year and joint filers with annual incomes under $450,000.
He called for everyone to put aside the issues on which the two parties have not yet found an agreement — including the sequester — and to vote to extend tax cuts for a majority of Americans.
“We need to protect American families and job creators from this looming tax hike. Everyone agrees that that action is necessary. And I can report that we’ve reached an agreement on all of the tax issues,” McConnell went on. “We are very, very close, as the president just said.”
“The most important piece, the piece that has to be done now, is preventing the tax hikes. The president said, quote, ‘for now, our most immediate priority is to stop taxes going up for middle-class families starting tomorrow.’ I agree,” McConnell said. “He suggested that action on the sequester is something we can continue to work on in the coming months. So I agree.”
“Let’s pass the tax relief portion now; let’s take what’s been agreed to and get moving,” he said.
“We all want to protect taxpayers and we can get it done now. Right now,” McConnell added.
“So let me be clear, we’ll continue to work on finding smarter ways to cut spending, But let’s not let that hold up protecting Americans from the tax hike that will take place in about ten hours, ten hours from now,” he said. “We can do this. We must do this.”
McConnell said he would “keep everybody updated as we continue to try to wrap this up.”