McConnell, Boehner hit Dems for threatening to go over the 'fiscal cliff'

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) chastised Democrats for threatening to take the country over the anticipated “fiscal cliff” at the end of the year unless Republicans agree to tax increases.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a member of Senate leadership, made clear on Monday that her party is willing to let an array of automatic spending cuts and tax increases — the so-called fiscal cliff — take effect if the GOP insists on extending lower tax rates for annual incomes above $250,000.

In response, Boehner accused Democrats of holding the economy hostage in order to punish small-business owners.

“Has it come to this, that Democrats are willing to hurt jobs and tank our economy for the sake of a small business tax hike that would also have disastrous consequences? Haven’t their policies caused enough hardship for middle-class families and small businesses already?” Boehner said in a statement. 

“Instead of threatening to derail our economy, Democrats ought to help protect job creators from the president’s small business tax hike. Most Americans want Congress to stop all the tax hikes, and that is exactly what the House will vote to do,” he said.

McConnell said Democrats are acting recklessly in pursuit of tax hikes.

“Make no mistake: what the Democrats are proposing today is an entirely avoidable high-stakes game of chicken with the single-minded goal of taking more money from those who earn it, for government to waste," he said on the Senate floor.

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Unless Congress acts before Jan. 1, the George W. Bush-era tax rates will expire, and $109 billion in sequestered spending cuts will take effect, among other policy changes. 

Murray on Monday said she is willing to support a fast-track process for tax reform, but opposes extending the Bush-era rates for incomes above $250,000 as a precondition for an agreement.

"Republicans are going to have to accept that tax reform isn’t going to be a backdoor way for them sneak through more tax cuts for the rich," she said. 

If the GOP does not relent, Murray said Democrats are ready to hold out and let the policy changes take effect, despite warnings from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that they could cause a recession. 

“Unless Republicans end their commitment to protecting the rich above all else, our country is going to have to face the consequences of Republican intransigence,” she said in a speech at the Brookings Institution.

The Democrats' "shoot-the-hostage" strategy resembles the GOP's tactics during last year's debt-ceiling debate, when Republicans threatened to allow the country to default if Democrats didn't agree to steep spending cuts.

Boehner at the time conceded that a failure to raise the debt ceiling would cripple the global economy and kill jobs at home. Still, he warned that Republicans would allow both to happen if they don’t get “something big” in return.

“Not raising the debt limit would have serious, very serious, implications for the worldwide economy and jobs here in America,” Boehner told Fox News in April of 2011. “But having said that, we’re just not going to do the typical Washington thing — roll over, increase the debt limit — without addressing the underlying problems.”

Murray said she has some hope that the GOP will bend on taxes before next year, but said a deal might be even easier to reach after Jan. 1.

“I also think many Republicans are starting to realize something important: On January 1st, if we haven’t gotten to a deal, Grover Norquist and his pledge are no longer relevant to this conversation," she said. “If the Bush tax cuts expire, every proposal will be a tax cut proposal, and the pledge will no longer keep Republicans boxed in and unable to compromise.”

—Mike Lillis contributed.