WASHINGTON (CBS DC/AP) — The nation appears in position to fall over the “fiscal cliff” at midnight as the House of Representatives do not have a vote in place on the deal currently being negotiated by Congress.
House Republicans notified lawmakers that the chamber will vote Monday evening on other bills. They say that will be their only votes of the day.
President Barack Obama and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Monday they are near a deal to avoid wide-ranging tax increases and spending cuts — the fiscal cliff — that take effect with the new year.
Both men said they were still bargaining over whether — and how — to avoid $109 billion in cuts to defense and domestic programs that take effect on Wednesday.
It remained unclear whether the Senate would vote Monday.
Congress could pass later legislation retroactively blocking the tax hikes and spending cuts.
Earlier Monday, President Obama announced that Congress was nearing a potential agreement that would avoid the fiscal cliff.
The president said there was still work to be done, but gave Americans hope that a deal could be reached before the midnight deadline.
“I realize that the last thing you wanna hear on new year’s eve is another speech from me, but I do need to talk about the progress being made in Congress today,” he said. “Today it appears that an agreement to prevent this new year’s tax hike is within sight, but it’s not done. There are still issues left to resolve, but we’re hopeful Congress can get it done, but it’s not done.”
As part of the potential agreement, taxes would be raised on those with some of the highest incomes in the country.
“The agreement being worked on right now would further reduce the deficit by asking the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans to pay higher taxes for the first time in two decades,” he said. “So that’s progress, but we’re gonna need to do more.”
During his speech Mr. Obama also took a swipe at Congress for the amount of time it’s taken to put a deal together, and the stress created by partisan politics during negotiations.
“I have to say that ever since I took office, throughout the campaign and over the last couple of months, my preference would have been to solve all these problems in the context of a larger agreement — a grand bargain, whatever you want to call it — that solves our deficit problems in a balanced and responsible way … so that we can put all of this behind us and focus on growing our economy. With this Congress, that was obviously a little too much to hope for at this time. Maybe we can do it in stages. We’re gonna solve this problem instead in several steps,” he said. “One thing we can count on with respect to this Congress, if there’s even one second left before you have to what you’re supposed to do, they will use that last second.”
Multiple congressional sources tell CBS News that the two sides have agreed on an income threshold for the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans: $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for families. For weeks, Democrats have pushed for letting the cuts expire for those making over $200,000 and families making over $250,000 while Republicans have wanted to renew the cuts for all Americans, including the wealthiest.
Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have been the key negotiators over the past 24 hours and the movement on taxes represents a huge step forward in the talks.
Other items that could be included in a deal include an extension of unemployment benefits and reimbursement rates for doctors who treat Medicare patients. As both of those items are costly, Republicans are worried that the new deal could raise the deficit instead of cutting it.
The agreement on taxes comes two hours after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., updated the holiday-starved, grumpy and weary “cliff” watchers and announced the obvious: time is running out and that “there are a number of issues on which the two sides are still far apart.”
Reid said discussions continue but any sort of agreement will “need cooperation from both sides.”
As negotiations continue, the tenor and focus of the talks have shifted from the top member in the House and the president to the Senate leaders.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who for weeks negotiated directly with President Obama, froze himself out of the arena just before Christmas with his ill-fated attempt at a “Plan B” that landed with a thud among a few dozen of his own members. Then, after Mr. Obama flew back from his Hawaiian vacation, presumably unhappy about leaving paradise for the cold and deserted nation’s capital, and summoned congressional leaders to the White House and dumped the onus of reaching a deal on the laps of Reid and McConnell.
Alas, Sunday, McConnell found himself throwing his hands up in exasperation after Reid slow-walked a promised counter-proposal and he picked up the phone to the White House to find, as he put it, “a dancing partner” in Vice President Joe Biden.
As negotiations are taking place with McConnell and Biden, the House of Representatives is in “hang loose” mode – as Reid put it over the weekend. The conservative members of the House Republican caucus insist that tax cuts can not replace the $1.2 trillion of spending cuts set to go into effect in the new year. Instead, they say there must be actual decreases in spending or allow the planned cuts to defense and non-defense programs to be implemented.
While time is running out, it is becoming less likely that Congress could pass anything before midnight tonight. While the legislative body can move quickly to pass legislation, it does take time to write and print the bill, vote on it and send it to the House. Reid has told senators not to make plans tomorrow or through January 3.