Finger-pointing begins as Reid says ‘we’re headed’ to fiscal crisis

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said the nation appears to be running straight into the looming fiscal crisis. According to Reid "it looks like that's where we're headed" as he discussed the likelihood of missing the Dec. 31 deadline for avoiding the tax hikes and spending cuts.

Published December 27, 2012
Fox News

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said Thursday that the nation appears to be running headlong into the looming fiscal crisis, as he launched into what is sure to be an aggressive round of finger-pointing on Capitol Hill.

The majority leader, on the Senate floor, said "it looks like that's where we're headed" as he discussed the likelihood of missing the Dec. 31 deadline for averting $600 billion in tax hikes and spending cuts.

In doing so, he put all the blame on House Speaker John Boehner, likening him to a dictator and claiming he was putting his speakership before the country.

"John Boehner seems to care more about keeping his speakership than about keeping the nation on firm financial footing," Reid said. "He's waiting until January 3rd to get reelected as speaker before he gets serious with negotiations because he has so many people ... that won't follow what he wants."

Boehner's office quickly shot back. "Senator Reid should talk less and legislate more. The House has already passed legislation to avoid the entire fiscal cliff. Senate Democrats have not," Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said.

While Reid wants the House to pass a Senate Democratic bill to resolve the crisis, Boehner wants the Senate to pass legislation already approved by House Republicans.

Neither chamber appears, though, to be willing to make the first move in the waning days before the crisis hits.

The White House said that President Obama spoke separately with all four congressional leaders Wednesday before leaving Hawaii, where he was on vacation, to return to Washington. But with those leaders not exactly talking to one another, it looks like Thursday will be another wasted day in capital.

The leaders of the House and Senate returned to familiar talking points, with each calling on the other side to act.

Reid, on the floor, urged the House to pass a Senate bill that would extend current tax rates for most families but let them rise on top earners. Reid, who wants Boehner to let the bill pass with mostly Democratic votes, claimed the chamber was "being operated with a dictatorship of the speaker."

Boehner earlier put the onus on the Senate, referring to two Republican-passed bills in his chamber -- one extending current tax rates for everyone; the other rearranging the $110 billion in spending cuts set to hit next year.

"The House has acted on two bills which collectively would avert the entire fiscal cliff if enacted. Those bills await action by the Senate," he and other Republican leaders said in a statement. "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."

They said the House would either accept those bills or continue to amend them, adding: "The House will take this action on whatever the Senate can pass, but the Senate first must act."

With each side refusing to make the first move, it may be incumbent upon Obama to give a negotiated bill one last try, presuming he can get all the stakeholders in the same room. Also unclear is what role Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who has stayed largely quiet throughout this debate, may play in pushing for an 11th-hour deal.

A new Gallup poll, though, showed Americans are growing increasingly pessimistic about the chances for an agreement in roughly five days. The Senate is in session Thursday for unrelated business, but the House is not. House Republican members have been told they would be given 48-hours notice if they are called back. Considering the time it takes to write and pass a bill of this magnitude, the best route for averting tax hikes may be to pass a short-term extension of current rates with the goal of approving a larger package early next year.

Lawmakers have not even agreed to that, though. Without a deal, more than $500 billion in tax hikes are scheduled to go into effect. This includes increases in income tax rates, investment tax rates, the estate tax, the payroll tax and other provisions. Budget cuts to the Pentagon and other federal agencies threaten to hit government contractors. All together, a prolonged failure to avert these policies could cause another recession, economists warn.

While Reid is in Washington, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said Thursday that Boehner has not yet left Ohio. Steel said "lines of communication remain open" -- but, reiterating the speaker's position, he said "communication is no substitute for Senate action."

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