By Ramsey Cox
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Thursday said it is likely too late for Congress to pull the nation back from the “fiscal cliff.”
Speaking on the Senate floor, Reid castigated Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for sending members of the House back to their districts last week after he was forced to scrap his “Plan B” tax plan for lack of support.
The Democratic leader said that even if Boehner agreed to hold a vote extending the Bush tax rates for incomes up to $250,000 — as Democrats have demanded to avoid one part of the fiscal cliff — it might not make it through Congress in time to prevent tax increases from beginning next year.
Boehner said last week that he would give members of the House 48 hours notice if they needed to return for a vote on fiscal matters, but GOP leaders have yet to give the order for them to return.
“[Boehner] should call them back today — he shouldn’t have let them go, in fact,” Reid said.
Senators arrived back at the Capitol on Thursday with time running out to reach an agreement on a slew of tax increases and automatic spending cuts that are set to begin in January.
Boehner last week said it was up to President Obama and Senate Democrats to find a solution to the fiscal cliff, and on Wednesday reiterated that the upper chamber must act first.
Obama returned Thursday morning from a Christmas vacation in Hawaii to make a last-ditch effort to reach some kind of fiscal agreement. The president phoned congressional leaders in both parties before leaving for Washington.
There appeared to be new movement in the fiscal talks shortly after Obama's return. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) caused a stir with a Facebook post that claimed the president was offering a new fiscal proposal to GOP leaders in the Senate. The White House said that was inaccurate.
An aide to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Republicans are expecting Democrats to make some kind of fiscal cliff push in the days ahead.
"We expect Democrats to act. I don't know what form it will take," the McConnell aide said.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the Democratic whip in the House, said the White House is considering its next move.
“I do know that they are equally concerned about this fiscal cliff and about the expiring items," Hoyer said. “The president is considering what options are available, and I don’t want to speak for the White House, but I know that they’re considering options."
Earlier Thursday, Reid seemed to indicate that the chances of reaching a fiscal deal were slim. He cast blame on Boehner for the inactionon, claiming he cares more about his Speakership than protecting middle-class Americans from tax hikes.
“The House is operating without the House of Representatives,” Reid said. “It’s being run with the dictatorship of the Speaker not allowing the majority to get what they want. ... He has made the decision not to have a vote on that because if he did, it would pass.”
Reid again urged Boehner to hold a vote on the Senate-passed tax bill, which he said could pass the House with Democratic support.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) echoed Reid in a message on Twitter, saying GOP leaders have “run out of excuses and time.”
“They should come back to work and stop stonewalling efforts to get the job done,” Pelosi wrote.
— This story was first posted at 10:20 a.m and has been updated.
— Alexander Bolton, Peter Schroeder and Amie Parnes contributed.