WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican-controlled House pushed ahead Thursday with a bill that would raise taxes on people earning over $1 million a year as hopes faded for a pre-Christmas deal between President Barack Obama and Speaker John Boehner to avert the so-called "fiscal cliff."
But Senate Democratic leaders vowed to let the measure die in the Senate without a vote and urged Boehner to return to the negotiating table. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said lawmakers would return to the Capitol after the holiday as a grand bargain to avoid the automatic tax hikes and spending cuts proved elusive.
"The president and Boehner have to negotiate this, okay?" said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. "We don't need a vehicle. We need an agreement."
Across the Capitol, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said the GOP has enough votes for a bill, dubbed "Plan B" by Boehner, aimed at upping the year-end pressure on Capitol Hill Democrats and Obama.
"We, as Republicans, have taken concrete actions to avoid the fiscal cliff," Cantor insisted at a news conference. He expressed confidence the GOP leadership will have enough votes to pass the bill.
The White House has vowed Obama would veto the measure.
Republicans have told senior administration officials that the Boehner decided to put forward his Plan B after he concluded he could not get enough GOP support for the proposal he made to Obama over the weekend, according to a senior administration official.
And GOP officials said that while Cantor supports Boehner's efforts to reach a sweeping deal with Obama, other members of the leadership team recoiled at details of Boehner's latest plan — including $1 trillion in higher taxes and a breakthrough concession on higher tax rates for those earning more than $1 million — at a meeting Monday evening. The officials required anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the meeting.
The possibility of a ruined holiday and the absence of a deal left hard feelings all around. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell blamed the president and Democrats.
"They've been playing Lucy and the football with the American people for months," said the Kentucky lawmaker. "They've said no to every single proposal that's been offered to avoid this tax hike — including their own. They're running out the clock. Moving the goal posts. Sitting on their hands. They aren't doing anything.
"Well, I say, 'Enough.' Enough. The time for games is over," he said in remarks on the Senate floor.
On Wednesday, a confident Obama dismissed the GOP bill, telling reporters that he and Boehner were just a few hundred billion dollars apart on a 10-year, $2 trillion-plus deficit-cutting pact.
Republicans should "peel off the partisan war paint" and take the deal he's offering, Obama said sharply at the White House. He noted that he had won re-election with a call for higher taxes on the wealthy, then added pointedly that the nation aches for conciliation, not a contest of ideologies, after last week's mass murder at a Connecticut elementary school.
Obama continued to press for a comprehensive budget pact with Boehner to replace an economy-jarring set of automatic tax hikes and sweeping spending cuts to the Pentagon and domestic agencies set to take effect in January.
Boehner countered that the president will bear responsibility for "the largest tax increase in history" if he makes good on his veto threat.
But to a remarkable extent, the two sides have flip-flopped.
Republicans have for years argued that voting to renew most Bush-era tax cuts on income, investments and elsewhere, but allowing upper-end tax cuts to expire, would be a debilitating blow to the economy and small businesses. Now, they point to the 99-plus percent of taxpayers who wouldn't be affected by their latest plan.