GOP House leadership: ‘The Senate first must act’ to avoid fiscal cliff

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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With just six days remaining until the country goes over the fiscal cliff, Speaker of the House John Boehner, who until last week was the primary negotiator with President Barack Obama in an attempt to reach a deal to avert the cliff, is putting pressure on the Democratic-controlled Senate, saying it is their turn to act.

“The House has acted on two bills which collectively would avert the entire fiscal cliff if enacted,” Boehner said, in a statement issued jointly with Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, and House Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers. “Those bills await action by the Senate. If the Senate will not approve and send them to the president to be signed into law in their current form, they must be amended and returned to the House. Once this has occurred, the House will then consider whether to accept the bills as amended, or to send them back to the Senate with additional amendments. The House will take this action on whatever the Senate can pass, but the Senate first must act. The lines of communication remain open, and we will continue to work with our colleagues to avert the largest tax hike in American history, and to address the underlying problem, which is spending.”

Without a deal, taxes will go up on all Americans beginning January 1. Adding to the pressure, Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner wrote in a letter to Congress on Wednesday that the country would hit the debt ceiling on Monday, Dec. 31, if congress does not act to raise the ceiling.

The tack toward putting the onus on the Senate began last Thursday, when Boehner’s Plan B, a bill which would have extended current tax rates for those making less than $1 million a year, collapsed out from under him when it became clear that he did not have the votes within his own caucus to pass it.

Instead of bringing the bill to a vote as planned, he sent the House home for the holidays.

“It is time for the Democratic-run Senate to act, and that is what the Speaker told the President tonight. Speaker Boehner will return to Washington following the holiday, ready to find a solution that can pass both houses of Congress,” Brendan Buck, a Boehner spokesman, said in a statement the next day.

The Senate passed its own bill to try to avert the tax hikes, which would extend the current tax rates for Americans making less than $250,000 a year, and Democratic Senators have called on Boehner to act on the bill.

Democratic senators have pressured the House to take up and pass that bill, but Boehner said last week that the bill has a “blue slip problem,” meaning that spending and tax bills cannot originate in the Senate.

The Senate may very well bear the onus to do something this week, by virtue of being the only chamber in session. The body is set to return to Washington on Thursday, while Speaker Boehner has not yet called his chamber back.

He reportedly promised to give House members 48 hours notice before they were required to return, and since that call has not yet been made, they are unlikely to return before the weekend.

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