Pelosi warns ‘clock is ticking,’ threatens House vote on tax rates

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) on Sunday repeated threats to file a “discharge petition” and force a House vote to extend current tax rates for households making under $250,000 a year.

The Senate has already approved extending those rates, but the House GOP objects to the measure, instead calling for all of the expiring Bush-era tax rates to be extended across-the-board.

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In order to bypass the House majority party's right to schedule floor votes, the California Democrat would need to garner 218 signatures, including more than 20 Republicans, to overcome the legislative hurdle. 

In a statement released Sunday morning, Pelosi threatened to do just that: “If Speaker Boehner refuses to schedule this widely-supported bill for a vote, Democrats will introduce a discharge petition to automatically bring to the floor the Senate-passed middle class tax cuts." 

The Democratic leader warned that time was running out for Boehner to act. “We must find a bold, balanced and fair agreement to avoid the fiscal cliff.  The clock is ticking and stalemates are a luxury we cannot afford,” she said.

Pelosi first suggested the discharge-petition maneuver on Friday as Democrats looked to increase pressure on Republicans to allow tax rates on the wealthy to rise in a deficit-reduction deal.

Many Republicans believe that they will lose their leverage in negotiations with the Democratic-controlled Senate and President Obama to cut spending and enact an overhaul of the tax code, if they give in on the demand to support a bill extending tax cuts only for the middle class. 

Last week, Boehner shot down an idea proffered by his colleague Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) to extend the current tax rates for all but the top two percent of Americans who make more than $250,000 and negotiate on higher-income tax brackets later. 

Lawmakers hope to agree to a deficit deal to avoid the automatic spending cuts and tax hikes set to take place on January 1st and Republicans see their tax stance as providing key leverage to push for steeper spending cuts and entitlement reforms.

On Thursday, Treasury Secretary Geithner presented lawmakers with the initial administration offer, which included $1.6 trillion in tax increases and $400 billion in cuts to entitlement spending.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) quickly rejected the plan, saying he was “flabbergasted” when he saw the proposal. 

Geithner on Sunday, though, defended the White House offer and said the GOP needed to make the next move. “I think right now, the best thing to do is for them to come to us and say, look, here's what we think makes sense,” said Geithner.