McConnell: Still time to reach deal on fiscal cliff

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told colleagues Thursday afternoon there is still time to reach a deal to avoid the "fiscal cliff," but warned Republicans would not write Democrats a “blank check.”

McConnell said he is looking forward to a proposal from President Obama, which he said the president mentioned in a phone conversation Wednesday evening.

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McConnell said Democrats finally appear to be ready to negotiate, but warned that it might be too late. And he said Democrats should not expect him and other Republicans to sign off on a bad deal only because tax hikes and spending cuts are due to take place after Dec. 31.

“Republicans aren’t about to write a blank check for anything Senate Democrats put forward just because we find ourselves at the edge of the cliff,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “That wouldn’t be fair to the American people.

“That having been said, we’ll see what the president has to propose,” he added. “Members on both sides of the aisle will review it, and then we will decide how best to proceed.”

“Hopefully there is still time for an agreement of some kind that saves taxpayers from a wholly, wholly preventable economic crisis,” he said. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Democrats have long been willing to strike a deal to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff. He accused Republicans of obstructing an agreement.

“You can’t legislate with yourself. We have nobody to work with, to compromise [with],” Reid said. “The Republicans in the House have left town. The negotiations between the president and the speaker have fallen apart, as they have for the last three and a half years. We tried mightily to get something done.”

Reid undercut McConnell’s optimistic tone. He questioned the likelihood of passing a compromise through the House, noting Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) pulled from the floor a bill extending tax rates on family income under $1 million last week.

Reid said Boehner is more concerned with keeping his job as speaker than crafting a bipartisan deal to extend tax rates for middle-class families.

“The speaker’s number-one goal is to get elected speaker on Jan. 3,” he said.

Reid said Republicans must show they can defy conservative groups such as the Club for Growth, which lobbied against Boehner’s Plan B, to extend income tax rates for family earnings below $1 million.

McConnell sent an e-mail to Republican colleagues Thursday morning alerting them that he expected to see a proposal from Obama later in the day to extend tax rates. The offer was reported to include an extension of tax rates on family income below $250,000, an extension of the 45-percent estate tax rate and unemployment insurance benefits.

A Senate Democratic leadership aide, however, said Thursday afternoon neither the White House nor Reid submitted a new offer to Senate Republicans, although Obama outlined Friday what he would like to see in last-minute legislation to avoid the fiscal cliff.

The Senate Democratic leadership aide also questioned a report that Obama would meet with Reid, McConnell, Boehner and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) Friday. No such meeting was scheduled as of 4 pm Thursday. 

Updated at 4:50 p.m.