— WASHINGTON (AP) — A last-gasp effort Thursday to avoid automatic tax increases and spending cuts got off on the same convulsive, partisan tone that marked congressional attempts to resolve the impasse before lawmakers left Washington to go home for Christmas.
With a Dec. 31 deadline for an agreement to avert the so-called "fiscal cliff" rapidly approaching, leaders in each party demanded the other side take the initiative. The new flare-up happened despite a round of calls that President Barack Obama made to congressional leaders by phone Wednesday night from Hawaii before he boarded Air Force One to head home from vacation.
Obama's plane landed in late morning at a suburban Maryland Air Force base, not long after Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the Senate floor to chastise House Republicans who last week opposed Speaker John Boehner's efforts to pass a narrowly crafted bill. Boehner's "Plan B" would have raised tax rates only on the very wealthiest Americans. But the opposition within his own party caucus forced the Ohio Republican to cancel a vote on the bill.
Reid charged Thursday that the House was "being operated with a dictatorship of the speaker."
"John Boehner seems to care more about keeping his speakership than about keeping the nation on sound financial footing," the Nevada Democrat said on the Senate floor.
Upon his return from a brief vacation, Obama was facing what has become a familiar 11th-hour scenario — one the GOP says is his fault — and even a stopgap solution was in doubt.
Without congressional action, current tax rates will expire on Dec. 31, resulting in a $536 billion tax increase that would touch nearly all Americans. Moreover, the military and other federal departments would have to cut $110 billion in spending.