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April 23, 2014

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No deal in sight as lawmakers prepare to work through holiday

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Associated Press

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., retreats to a closed-door meeting with fellow Democrats as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and he work to negotiate a legislative path to avoid the “fiscal cliff” on Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012.

They’re eating pizza. They’re wearing jeans. And they’re bracing themselves to be in session on New Year’s Eve — the first Congress to do so in more than forty years.

This is what the fiscal cliff looks like from the perspective of rank-and-file lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

As of Sunday, the Senate and the House of Representatives are back in Washington, D.C. Most of them are just sitting around and waiting.

“They’re telling us that we may very well be here on the 2nd, and if you’re planning on going home for New Year’s, which I will not be … it probably isn’t a good idea,” said Nevada Rep. Shelley Berkley.

At the end of last week, Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell had set themselves a 3 p.m. Sunday deadline to come up with a deal to avert the fiscal cliff, the combination of tax rate hikes and government cuts that are scheduled to take effect Tuesday, absent congressional action.

But by midday Sunday, those talks seemed to have stalled, and after a long day of meetings on the fiscal cliff, the House and Senate disbanded Sunday evening with no signs of a deal in sight.

“There is still significant distance between the two sides, but negotiations continue,” Reid said, dismissing the Senate on Sunday night.

The Senate and the House are scheduled to return to business Monday morning — but as they departed the Capitol, it was clear that few knew what that business would be.

“There’s no details to discuss because nobody knows. The House Republican leadership doesn’t even know,” said Berkley, who, for the first time in her career, showed up to the House wearing jeans.

“I just got off the plane,” she said. “What are they going to do, file an ethics complaint against me for not being properly attired?”

Berkley marveled in frustration at how little progress was being made so close to the fiscal cliff deadline.

“They’re not hiding anything from us. They’re not trying to keep a secret. They don’t know,” Berkley said.

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., followed by Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., second from right, leaves the Senate chamber to meet with fellow Republicans in a closed-door session as the "fiscal cliff" negotiations continue at the Capitol in Washington, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012.

“They told us to be fluid, flexible, and there was another F,” said Nevada Rep. Mark Amodei, emerging from a meeting of House Republicans on Sunday evening to discuss the fiscal cliff and musing over a red Solo cup of soda about how many of these to-the-brink situations he’d experienced in his 16 months of Congress.

“The discouraging thing for me personally is I hope this doesn’t become the new way of doing business,” he said.

Berkley and Amodei haven’t agreed on much when it comes to the fiscal cliff. Their voting records are opposites when it comes to past tax measures: Amodei has voted for measures to extend the Bush-era tax rates at all income levels, while Berkley has voted against them.

They don’t even agree as to whether the Tuesday deadline is truly a zero barrier to get a deal done.

Amodei called the deadline a “manufactured drama-crisis,” while Berkley stressed that it was incumbent on this Congress to “clean up our own mess.”

But they agree that a deal shouldn’t be taking quite this long.

“There isn’t anything we’re discussing that isn’t doable. ... Let’s do this thing for god’s sakes!” Berkley said.

Democrats and Republicans are currently stuck between competing offers and competing philosophies on the fiscal cliff. At the heart of the matter is a difference of opinion about which tax rates should be extended and which should be allowed to rise, with Democrats arguing that reduced tax rates should be kept in place only for incomes up to $250,000 and Republicans angling for something higher.

Berkley already has moved to the right of her colleagues, saying she’d be happy to vote for an offer that raised that tax rate level to $500,000.

“I know it sounds outrageous if you’re supporting your family on 40, 50 thousand dollars a year, but there are some areas of the country where $250,000 is hardly millionaire status,” Berkley said. “So a more appropriate number, so if we came close to that, I would support it.”

Amodei, meanwhile, expressed frustration that Congress was wasting this much energy over a disagreement on tax rates and spending cuts.

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Reporters surround Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., outside the Senate chamber during negotiations on the "fiscal cliff" at the Capitol in Washington, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012.

“We’re all nibbling around the edges on the obvious battle of revenue vs. cuts,” he said. “The real money to the federal government is you’ve got to get the economy going again. ... (To) provide some stability and predictability, you have to do something about the regulatory onslaught. That’s where the real guts of it is.”

Earlier on Sunday, Nevada Sen. Dean Heller was joking with Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski that they could “solve the whole thing” by auctioning off federal land in Nevada and Alaska — and competing over whose state’s public lands would bring in more dough.

“They have more, but is it worth anything? We’re lower 48,” Heller joked. “You can drive to San Francisco, L.A. ... but they have oil.”

Heller said Sunday that he also would support a deal that hovered around the $500,000 mark and indicated that he was increasingly optimistic one would be struck.

But before these Nevada lawmakers get a chance to register their opinion in a vote, senior lawmakers, including Reid, have to agree on a deal.

Heading into Sunday, Reid and McConnell sounded confident that they would be able to come up with an accord by midday.

But when the time rolled around, Reid declared himself unable to mount a counteroffer — and McConnell began frantically telephoning Vice President Joe Biden to intervene, even interrupting a meeting with Senate Republicans to field calls from his old friend from the White House.

As the two Democratic power-brokers have engaged McConnell in good cop/bad cop negotiations, House leaders readied themselves to field any new bills from the Senate on Monday morning.

In the meantime, it appears most of what even House leaders will be doing is waiting.

“Every time over the last two years that I’ve gotten away from regular order, I’ve gotten burned. I am staying with regular order,” Amodei quoted House Majority Leader John Boehner as telling Republicans in a meeting Sunday night. “I don’t know if or what the Senate’s going to do.”

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  1. At this point any bill would be meaningless, let the fiscal cliff fall... I am one of the people the democrats are trying to protect...I say if you can't do it right don't do it at all..Bill Clinton himself told us how good it would be under the fiscal cliff terms, ie no Bush tax cuts so let's go..everyone in the boat.

  2. Typically the only people who have to work on holidays are responders and emergency personnel and minimum wage slaves. I don't care if the overpaid, underworked parasites in DC have to work 24/7. It would be fitting.

  3. There are hard realities that are being intentionally ignored and overlooked.

    The End Strategy for the President in this negotiations: Cut Taxes for 98% of America and raise Taxes for the wealthy 2% of Americans, and raise the debt ceiling.

    The Republicans will take action after December 31, 2012. They will vote in 2013 to extend tax cut for 98% of America people. Thereby keeping their promise not to raise taxes, but to cut taxes.

    The Democrats and the President will hold true to Barack Obama's campaign pledge of cutting taxes for 98% of Americans, and holding firm against cutting Medicare and Medicaid.

    Two Top Priorities: Raise Taxes for 2% of Americans. Raise the Debt Ceiling!

    Why?
    First, the President wants Tax Reform. He cannot get Tax Reform without without the Rich or the wealthy leading the charge. They need to have a direct interest in this fight. You do this by raising their taxes. This President is smart, he knows 98% of Americans have no interest or the money to fight to change the tax code. Rich People do! Secondly, the President knows we cannot have another fight over the ceiling like in 2010.

    And there are some very obvious actions by Republican lawmakers that are starting to be the topic of open conversation in Washington and around kitchen tables in America. In the past Washington lawmakers always paid on the Nation debt. Now, somehow, things are different! Why?

    President Obama politely mentioned it in his press conference a few days ago, and David Gregory mentioned it on Meet the Press on Sunday. "Why do the Republican have a hard time saying yes to this President"? In the past with other presidents, both democrats and Republicans, this was not an issue?

    Many People are thinking it. Many People are saying it in small groups and general discussions. Many People of diversity have a strong perception from day one of Barack Obama's presidency, that many lawmakers in Washington are Racist. Pure and simple, out and out Racist. Bias and special treatment directed at this President. The evidence speaks volumes in terms of actions and words. Only a person in denial would say otherwise.

    This is a reality that reveals itself more and more each day. The power of the vote can help in removing those lawmakers who in the past have displayed their bias and prejudices. We will have this opportunity (it is our right) to vote in 2014 to make much needed changes to the old style, dated culture behaviors that are killing America.

  4. Just BEFORE the election, Obama, on The View, said EVERYBODY's taxes WILL go up. The middle class and / or working class will pay for spending.

  5. We see the Congress "had time" to re-up the Farm Bill. More nonsense. A one year extension WITHOUT fixing prices for today's economy. Once again, taxpayers pay to keep milk prices down--to pretend that unsupported kids are not an absolute drain. Why can't we have real legislation that modifies the price supports and gradually gets us out of Farm financing? Many consumers have turned to other beverages such as Almond Milk, Soy Milk....yet we must keep paying to pretend cow milk is healthier and cheaper.

  6. With a congress this incompetent can "American Spring" be far behind.

  7. The thing is that all of the players have known that this was coming for a long time. You have even had bills passed on one side or the other. The House passed both spending and tax bills this summer that would have averted the fiscal cliff but they were not allowed up for vote in the Senate. The Senate has passed bills that were not considered in the House. We just have an environment where both sides seem to believe that it is easier to address a crisis rather than handle the situation in a reasonable fashion. The advantage is that the crisis gives everyone cover for doing things that they claim to not want to do, since they can claim that they had to do it to save us all. And we will get to go through this all again shortly as the debt limit approaches and we get another round of brinksmanship. But the real beauty is that in 22 months when we have the next national election, probably nearly 90% of those people up for re-election will win. So, they must be doing what most people them to do and that is truly scary.