By Alexander Bolton and Bernie Becker - 12/21/12 06:50 PM EST
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) on Friday called on the Senate to pass new legislation to avoid the fiscal cliff — a proposal Democrats immediately rejected.
“If Sen. Reid has a plan that can get 60 votes in the Senate, break through the disarray in his own caucus and build bipartisan support, offer that as an amendment and then let’s vote," McConnell said. "Let’s vote on amendments from all sides."
McConnell proposed the Senate take up a House-passed revenue measure extending all of the Bush-era tax rates as a legislative vehicle, which would meet the constitutional requirement that all revenue-raising bills originate in the House.
“And then let’s go to conference with the House of Representatives. They’ve already passed a bill, one that I support, to prevent a tax hike on all Americans and reform the tax code. Let’s take it up here and get this done,” McConnell said.
“It's called legislating, folks. It's what Congress used to do,” he said.
Reid immediately shot down McConnell’s idea.
“If this weren’t such a serious situation we face ourselves, it would be laughable,” Reid said. “Can you imaging saying that we should defeat a bill that we have already defeated? We voted. We voted on the proposal at the same time we voted to pass that [legislation] protecting middle-class Americans.”
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) earlier in the day called on the Senate to act on legislation to avoid going over the "fiscal cliff" and suggested the House-passed bill extending the Bush tax rates.
“We do have a House bill that sits in the Senate that extended tax rates for all Americans. And we've been waiting since August the 1st for the Senate to act. If the Senate wants to act on that bill, we'll certainly take a look at it,” Boehner told reporters.
Reid said Boehner should resume negotiations with Obama or act on the Senate-passed bill extending current tax rates on family income below $250,000.
"It’s time for the Speaker and all Republicans to return to the negotiating table," Reid said. "In the meantime, the Speaker should bring the middle-class tax cut passed by the Senate five months ago to the floor of the House."
Republicans say House action on the Senate bill is not possible because the Constitution specifies that revenue-raising measures must originate in the lower chamber.
Senate Democrats argue this objection is bogus. They say it would be easy for the House to insert the substance of the Senate tax bill, which passed in July, into a House-originated vehicle.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also urged Boehner to get back to the negotiating table, in the wake of Thursday’s events.
“We have no right to walk out the door of Congress with no clear path to a resolution of this challenge,” Pelosi told reporters. “It's time to get back on track.”
Pelosi and other House Democratic leaders said the least Boehner could do was bring up the Senate proposal to lock in tax rates for annual family income up to $250,000 a year.
“This House will say yes, we believe, to a bipartisan compromise bill,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee. “And, we believe it will say yes to the Senate pass bill that is already pending.”
“Plan B may have failed,” said Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “It is time to get to plan C. Plan C is compromise, and plan C is comprehensive.”
Pelosi and Van Hollen also said that Boehner should not be concerned about having to rely mainly on Democratic votes to pass a “fiscal cliff” deal – noting that, as House Speaker, Pelosi was forced to lean on Republicans to pass an Iraq War spending bill.
“I think Speaker Boehner should bring up a bill like that, that reflects that kind of balance and compromise just as Leader Pelosi did when she was speaker of the House when it came to a bill that dealt with the Iraq war,” Van Hollen said.
Lawmakers are growing more pessimistic about Congress acting in time to avoid tax rates from shooting up for all tax brackets and preventing $110 billion in spending cuts from being triggered.
“We’re now in a bad spot,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). “I hope we don’t go over the cliff, but I think we are.”
“The time for finger-pointing is gradually running out here,” said McConnell. “The American people know we have a president, they know we have a Senate and they know we have a House, and they’re anxiously waiting whether we’re going to solve this problem before the end of the year.”
This story was updated at 2:33 p.m.