Updated: 6:15 ET
Seemingly unable to unite their members around a fiscal cliff compromise, House Republican leaders demanded Wednesday that “the Senate first must act” on House legislation to avert the mix of tax hikes and spending cuts set to take effect in January.
After a private conference call among themselves, the House’s top four Republicans — Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) — put out a joint statement in the afternoon.
“The House has acted on two bills which collectively would avert the entire fiscal cliff if enacted. Those bills await action by the Senate,” they said. “If the Senate will not approve and send them to the president to be signed into law in their current form, they must be amended and returned to the House. Once this has occurred, the House will then consider whether to accept the bills as amended, or to send them back to the Senate with additional amendments. The House will take this action on whatever the Senate can pass, but the Senate first must act. The lines of communication remain open, and we will continue to work with our colleagues to avert the largest tax hike in American history, and to address the underlying problem, which is spending.”
The message to President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV): we’re out of options, and now it’s up to you.
The Senate has passed legislation extending tax cuts for incomes under $250,000, but Democrats have failed to persuade the House GOP to permit a vote on that bill. Senate action on separate House legislation would elongate the process and almost certainly take the country over the fiscal cliff in January.
In response, Reid’s spokesman Adam Jentleson chided Republicans for wasting time with their Plan B “stunt” and demanded that they take up the Senate bill, calling on them to “let it pass with Democratic and Republican votes.”
“The Senate has already rejected House Republicans’ Tea Party bills, and no further legislation can move through the Senate until Republicans drop their knee-jerk obstruction,” Jentleson said. “Right now, the Senate bill is the only bill that can become law.”
The dueling statements were the first since House Republicans dismissed their members for the holidays last Thursday upon failing to pass their Plan B legislation, which would have taken a bite out of the fiscal cliff by extending tax cuts for incomes under $1 million. The House has separately passed bills to continue all the Bush tax cuts and replace automatic cuts to defense and domestic programs with targeted spending for the poor.
In the upper chamber, Reid is reportedly searching for votes to determine whether Obama’s latest offer to Boehner — which would extend tax breaks for incomes under $400,000 and cut future Social Security benefits, among other things — can pass Congress. At this stage, according to CNN, he’s said to be skeptical of pushing a package that won’t become law.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) put the onus on Democrats. His spokesman Don Stewart told TPM on Wednesday morning, “We have had no outreach from Dems here or at the White House. So we really don’t know what their plans are.”
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.