Is there still time for deal?


Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - Con­tin­ued from The As­so­ci­ated Press contributed to this ar­ti­cle.

both par­ties cau­tioned that the burst of ac­tiv­ity could be more about mak­ing sure the other side gets the blame than any real search for a res­o­lu­tion be­fore the Jan. 1 dead­line.

Un­der Se­nate rules, no deal could run the gaunt­let of pro­ce­dural hur­dles in time for a fi­nal vote be­fore the dead­line with­out all sen­a­tors agree­ing not to slow progress.

“I have to be very hon­est,” Sen. Harry Reid of Ne­vada, the ma­jor­ity leader, said Thurs­day. “I don’t know time­wise how it can hap­pen now.”

White House of­fi­cials con­tin­ued to put the onus on Repub­li­cans to clear a pro­ce­dural path to a quick vote on a ne­go­ti­ated deal.

“The only way Amer­ica goes over the cliff is if the Repub­li­can lead­ers in the House and the Se­nate de­cide to push us by block­ing pas­sage of bills to ex­tend tax cuts for the mid­dle class,” said Dan Pfeif­fer, the White House com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor. “It’s a ques­tion of their will­ing­ness to put coun­try be­fore party.”

Repub­li­cans said there was noth­ing prevent­ing Reid from putting for­mal leg­is­la­tion on the Se­nate floor, and to date, no such bill has been writ­ten.

But the con­tours of a fall­back deal did come into view Thurs­day, even as the will to achieve it lagged be­hind.

Repub­li­cans in­volved in the talks said both sides would prob­a­bly be able to agree to ex­tend ex­pir­ing Bush-era tax cuts up to some in­come thresh­old higher than Obama’s $250,000 cut­off but lower than the $1 mil­lion sought by the House speaker, John Boehner. To that, lead­ers would prob­a­bly agree to add pro­vi­sions to stop the alternative min­i­mum tax from sud­denly en­larg­ing to hit more mid­dle-class house­holds, and pos­si­bly to ex­tend ex­pir­ing un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits.

Repub­li­cans would be far less re­cep­tive to Obama’s call to tempo- rar­ily sus­pend across­the-board spend­ing cuts un­less such a sus­pen­sion was ac­com­pa­nied by sig­nif­i­cant and im­me­di­ate spend­ing cuts else­where.

But no such deal could be reached with­out sig­nif­i­cant, face-to-face ne­go­ti­a­tions in­volv­ing the pres­i­dent and con­gres­sional lead­ers, aides said. McCon­nell aides said a phone call be­tween the pres­i­dent and the Se­nate Repub­li­can leader Wed­nes­day night was the first outreach that McCon­nell has had from any Demo­crat since Thanks­giv­ing.

“It ap­pears to me the ac­tion, if there is any, will be on the Se­nate side,” McCon­nell said Thurs­day on the Se­nate floor.

Af­ter a House Repub­li­can lead­er­ship con­fer­ence call Thurs­day, Rep. Eric Can­tor of Vir­ginia, the ma­jor­ity leader, an­nounced that House mem­bers would re­turn to Washington on Sun­day for leg­isla­tive busi­ness, with votes in the evening. Law­mak­ers were warned that the House might be in ses­sion through Jan. 2, the day the 112th Congress dis­bands. The next day, the 113th Congress will con­vene, wip­ing out any un­fin­ished work of the past two years.

Be­tween such glim­mers of hope, the rhetoric in Washington on Thurs­day was any­thing but con­cil­ia­tory.

On the Se­nate floor Thurs­day, Reid ex­co­ri­ated House Repub­li­cans for fail­ing to con­sider a Se­nate-passed mea­sure that would ex­tend lower tax rates on house­hold in­come up to $250,000. He urged House mem­bers to re­turn to the Capi­tol to put to­gether at least a mod­est deal to avoid the more than half-a-tril­lion dol­lars in au­to­matic tax in­creases and spend­ing cuts set to be­gin in Jan­uary.

“The Amer­i­can peo­ple are wait­ing for the ball to drop,” Reid said, “but it’s not go­ing to be a good drop.”

Bren­dan Buck, a spokesman for Boehner, re­sponded sharply to Reid’s com­ments. “Harry Reid should talk less and leg­is­late more if he wants to avert the fis­cal cliff. The House has al­ready passed leg­is­la­tion to do so,” he said, re­fer­ring to a mea­sure that ex­tends ex­ist­ing cuts at all in­come lev­els.

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