WASHINGTON President Barack Obama cut short his family vacation in Hawaii to fly back to Washington on Thursday. The Democratic-controlled Senate also returned. But House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on Thursday instructed members not to come back to the Capitol for votes until 6:30 p.m. EST Sunday, less than 30 hours before the New Year, putting more doubt in the lawmakers ability to avert a potentially devastating series of tax increases and spending cuts.
I have to be very honest, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. I dont know time-wise how it can happen now.
Obama will meet at the White House with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders Friday afternoon, according to the White House.
Obama is calling for a scaled-back package that would raise taxes for individual income above $200,000 and family income above $250,000 his original proposal that he campaigned on and an extension of jobless benefits for 2 million unemployed workers.
His latest proposal on taxes is less palatable to anti-tax Republicans than his earlier offer to raise taxes only on income above $400,000 and much less popular than a fallback plan that Boehner floated but could not get past his own Republican House. And it no longer includes proposed cuts in projected spending Obama had offered before the holidays, all part of a plan that the Republicans rejected.
The president made a fresh round of calls to congressional leaders Boehner, Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. late Wednesday in the hopes of jumpstarting the talks. The White House declined to release details of the conversations.
I told the president that were all happy to look at whatever he proposes, McConnell said. But the truth is, were coming up against a hard deadline here, and, as I said, this is a conversation we should have had months ago. And Republicans arent about to write a blank check for anything Senate Democrats put forward just because we find ourselves at the edge of the cliff. Its not fair to the American people.
Obama and Boehner had been working on a compromise in the weeks following the election. After a possible solution fell apart, the speaker insisted the Senate first pass a bill.
The House previously had passed legislation to extend all the George W. Bush-era tax cuts that expire Tuesday and prevent $109 billion in automatic spending cuts that will take effect Wednesday.