With only five days left to reach an agreement to avoid falling off the "fiscal cliff", House Speaker John Boehner and House leadership refused to return to Washington, instead insisting that the Senate pass a measure first.
Refusing to offer a counter proposal to the offer presented by the White House on Dec. 18th, Boehner attempted to push his "Plan B" proposal through the House on Thursday, Dec. 20th. After failing to secure enough support from members of his own party, Boehner pulled his proposal from the floor. As reported by Digital Journal, the Republican held House then adjourned, with House majority leader Eric Cantor telling reporters House members were leaving town until after the Christmas holiday. Approximately two hours later, Cantor announced he was not sending House members home, saying "We want to avoid the fiscal cliff from happening."
The House reconvened on Friday, Dec. 21st at 2:00 p.m. before promptly adjourning 5 minutes later according to the floor summary of the Clerk of the House of Representatives. Members of the Senate remained in Washington, holding a 6 hour session on Friday before adjourning until 10:00 a.m. Thursday, December 27th.
As President Obama and Senators began returning to Washington late on Wednesday, Boehner held a conference call with Republican House leaders, insisting that the Senate act on a fiscal cliff proposal before the House takes any action. In a statement issued after the conference call, Boehner said:
“The House will take this action on whatever the Senate can pass, but the Senate first must act.”
Offering no signs of a willingness to compromise, Boehner continued by saying:
"The House has acted on two bills which collectively would avert the entire fiscal cliff if enacted. 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."
Republican Rep. Rodney Alexander expected a text message or email on Wednesday, saying:
"I've been checking by Blackberry every few minutes. They said they'd give us 48 hours notice on when to come back."
However Boehner has yet to summon members of the House back to Washington or schedule a time for the House to reconvene. Boehner's insistence on waiting for the Senate to act before telling House members to return to Washington has Alexander concerned that a deal will not be reached in time, especially given the fact it will take 48 hours between the time Boehner decides to recall House members and when the House will actually convene. Alexander told The News Star:
"I just don't know if we'll make it by the end of the year. We've got ourselves a mess."
When the Senate convened at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid expressed doubt that enough time remained to reach an agreement, telling CNN:
"I don't know, timewise, how it can happen now."
The Senate has passed a bill that would preserve existing tax rates on income under $250,000, however to this point, Boehner and House Republicans have refused to consider the bill for a vote, demanding that the Senate pass a new bill. However, Senate rules prevent a new bill from being brought forth and voted on until the House considers what has already been proposed.
The fact that the Republican House leadership has refused to consider the Senate bill, knowing a new bill cannot be voted upon until the House acts, has many in Washington saying Republicans want to go off the fiscal cliff, despite the consequences. For the past week, many have speculated Boehner wants to wait until January 3rd, before considering any new legislation. January 3rd is when the House votes to keep or replace Boehner as the House Speaker. Reid echoed that belief telling members of the Senate:
"John Boehner seems to care more about keeping his speakership than about keeping the nation on sound financial footing."
Whatever the reason Boehner has refused to recall House members, some believe that his refusal to continue with negotiations is a clear sign that he and House Republicans have no desire to work towards a compromise.