By Mike Lillis - 12/31/12 12:55 AM EST
House Democratic leaders are urging Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to stage a vote on President Obama's proposal to extend tax breaks only on annual incomes below $250,000.
The Democrats insist that Obama's bare-bones legislation, which also includes provisions to extend emergency unemployment benefits, is the best chance for Congress to prevent tax hikes from hitting middle-class workers on Jan. 1, as current law dictates.
"If they can't come to agreement within their own conference — if they continue to self-destruct before our eyes in their own conference — then minimally they have a responsibility, as the president suggested, to bring his proposal to the floor for an up-or-down vote," Larson said Sunday night following a Democratic caucus meeting in the Capitol. "We can only hope that our colleagues come to their senses."
Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), the vice-chairman of the Democratic caucus, piled on, blasting GOP leaders for returning to Washington Sunday only to stage votes on bills unrelated to the "fiscal cliff."
"None of the votes that we will be casting today have anything to do with these deadlines that we face in slightly more than 24 hours," Becerra said. "I hope the House Republican leadership lets us put bills on the floor that can pass. [They] may not get all of their Republican colleagues to vote for them, but [let something] pass."
After weeks of talks between Boehner and Obama, the negotiations in the fiscal-cliff debate shifted last week to the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) spent the weekend trying to hammer out an agreement before the looming deadline.
In the Senate, the two sides hoped they could still reach a deal by Monday that might receive votes in both chambers.
"There is still significant distance between the two sides, but negotiations continue,” Reid said. “There is still time left to reach an agreement, and we intend to continue negotiations."
If McConnell and Reid reach a deal, it remains possible Senate-approved legislation could move through the lower chamber on Monday as well.
However, Reid has warned the Senate he will seek to move Obama's initial offer to extend tax rates on annual income below $250,000 if the sides cannot reach a deal with Republicans.
Talks in the Senate have focused on extending tax rates and unemployment insurance, as well as an estate tax extension and a "patch" to exempt more middle-class taxpayers from the Alternative Minimum Tax. Senate Republicans have been seeking to extend current tax rates on income as high as $450,000 on individuals and $550,000 for families.
Obama caused a stir Sunday morning when he told NBC's "Meet the Press" that Republicans are to blame for the impasse.
“We have been talking to the Republicans ever since the election was over," Obama told David Gregory in an interview that was taped Saturday. “They have had trouble saying yes to a number of repeated offers."
GOP leaders were quick to fire back, with Boehner issuing a statement accusing Obama of pointing fingers while failing to lead.
"Republicans made every effort to reach the ‘balanced’ deficit agreement that the president promised the American people, while the president has continued to insist on a package skewed dramatically in favor of higher taxes that would destroy jobs," Boehner said. "We’ve been reasonable and responsible. The president is the one who has never been able to get to ‘yes.’"
All sides are weary of the debate, which has forced Congress to Washington into a rare holiday session.
"It feels an awful lot like 'Groundhog Day' ... except in the movie, time wasn't really of matter," Rep. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), the incoming vice chairman of the Democratic caucus, said Sunday night. "In real life, we know that in 24 hours or so we'll be facing a dire circumstance."