The Democratic leader in the Senate has declared that US politicians are likely to fail in their quest to find a solution to the the fiscal cliff budget crisis.
With five days to reach a political solution before massive tax hikes and spending cuts kick in, Nevada senator Harry Reid said the deadline would probably be missed. “It looks like that’s where we’re headed,” he said on the Senate floor on Thursday. “The American people are waiting for the ball to drop, but it’s not going to be a good drop.”
Reid’s gloomy acknowledgement of the failure of bipartisan negotiations triggered a sell-off on US stock markets. All the major US markets had turned negative by noon. The latest survey of consumer confidence by the Conference Board showed a sharp drop to 65.1 in December, from a revised 71.5 in November that the thinktank blamed on uncertainty caused by the budget crisis.
US senators returned to work on Thursday after the Christmas break, and Barack Obama cut short his Christmas vacation in Hawaii to fly back to Washington in search of a deal. But the House of Representatives is not in session, prompting Reid to to accuse the Republicans of being “out watching movies” with the fiscal cliff deadline fast approaching.
“I have to be honest: I don’t know, time-wise, how it can happen,” said Reid. “I would hope that the speaker and the Republican leader here in the Senate would come to us and say: here’s what we think will work.”
On Wednesday, before boarding the plane, Obama had telephone discussions with Reid, Reid’s Republican opposite number Mitch McConnell, Republican House speaker John Boehner, and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi.
But there is little sign that either side in Congress is willing to act swiftly in search of compromise. Reid’s comments come after Boehner called on the Senate to act. On Wednesday, Republican leaders said two bills had already been presented to the Senate aimed at solving the impasse, and that senators were prepared to vote on them after amendment.
Those bills have stalled over reluctance from Republicans to sign off on any deal that raises taxes, and criticism that Obama’s spending cuts do not go deep enough.
Reid hit out in a statement Wednesday in which he said: “The Senate has already rejected House Republicans’ Tea Party bills, and no further legislation can move through the Senate until Republicans drop their knee-jerk obstruction,” he said.
On Thursday, he upped the rhetoric, saying Boehner “seems to care more about his speakership” than striking a deal.
The Republican Speaker faces a vote on his position on January 3, and Reid accused Boehner of delaying negotiations until that vote was resolved. The House is being run “by a dictatorship of the speaker,” he said.
But a spokesman for Boehner hit back: “Senator Reid should talk less and legislate more. The House has already passed legislation to avoid the entire fiscal cliff. Senate Democrats have not.”
House Republicans are planning a conference call on Thursday afternoon to discuss, among other things, their possible return this weekend. Members were told they would be given 48 hours notice before any impending return, and snowstorms across the US may delay travel plans.