House, Senate speaking at each other, not with each other, on taxes

"The House has already passed legislation to stop all of the Jan. 1 tax rate increases and replace the sequester with responsible spending cuts that will begin to address our nation's crippling debt," Boehner said Thursday. "The Senate must now act."

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Boehner was referring to the House's Aug. 1 vote on a bill to keep all tax rates at their current levels, including rates on the wealthy. Members approved that bill 256-171, with the help of 19 Democrats.

But for several months, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has reversed Boehner's call for Senate action, and has said it is up to the House to take up a Senate-passed bill to extend Bush-era tax rats on income below $250,000. The Senate approved that bill in a close 51-48 vote on July 25.

"We Democrats have been saying for more than four months it is time for the House to pass a middle-class tax cut, which we approved here in the Senate in July," Reid said Dec. 6. "As the days until the country goes over the fiscal cliff tick by, more and more Republicans have joined our chorus."

Republicans countered this week that because the Senate bill includes revenue measures, it cannot be taken up directly in the House and is still technically sitting in the Senate.

"There is no Senate bill that has come to the House," Boehner said Friday. "As you all know, the Senate bill has a blue-slip problem, and it continues to sit in the United States Senate."

This position begin taken by both leaders — that the other chamber must act — seems to all but preclude a House-Senate negotiation around the fiscal cliff in the 10 days left before scheduled tax hikes take place, and appears to make it even more necessary for a deal to be reached with White House involvement. A spokesman for Reid made this point late Thursday after Republicans pulled their tax bill back.

"The only way to avoid the cliff altogether is for Speaker Boehner to return to negotiations, and work with President Obama and the Senate to forge a bipartisan deal," Adam Jentleson said in a statement to reporters.

Five months ago, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said as much about the dueling House and Senate tax bills, noting that progress was not being made by passing a bill in one chamber and ignoring it in the other.

"We vote on a lot of things that are DOA in the House. The House votes on a lot of things that are DOA in the Senate," Nelson said after the July vote in the Senate. "So that's not the test."