So Far, No Christmas Miracle For Fiscal Cliff

A week that began with promising movement toward a deal on the so-called fiscal cliff ended with apparent backward progress. House Speaker John Boehner offered no evidence he had control of his unruly caucus, while President Obama avoided the topic entirely.

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Members of Congress have left town for Christmas. They're expected back next week. There is still no deal to avert the automatic across-the-board tax increases and spending cuts that are known as the fiscal cliff. The quest for a solution turned chaotic Thursday night when House speaker John Boehner scrapped a vote on his so-called Plan B. NPR's David Welna has the latest.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Plan B got yanked because too many House Republicans could not swallow that it let the tax rate go up for income above a million dollars. Its demise raised questions about whether Boehner himself could onto his job as speaker. Yesterday, in a meeting with reporters the morning after Plan B, Boehner brushed off such questions.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: While we may have not been able to get the votes last night to avert 99.81 percent of the tax increases, I don't think - they weren't taking that out on me. They were dealing with the perception that somebody might accuse them of raising taxes. Merry Christmas everyone.

WELNA: And with that, the speaker left. Last night at the White House, President Obama told reporters he'd just spoken with Boehner after first meeting with Senate majority leader Harry Reid. He'd asked them to get to work on a package extending middle-class tax cuts and unemployment insurance for 2 million Americans and to get it done within 10 days.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And the challenge that we've got right now is that the American people are a lot more sensible and a lot more thoughtful and much more willing to compromise and give and sacrifice and act responsibly than their elected representatives are.

WELNA: Back at the Capitol, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi blamed the impasse on GOP leaders.

REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI: Every time we are close to a solution, whether it was a year and a half ago in the summer, or right now, the Republicans walk away.

WELNA: One solution said Maryland House Democrat Chris Van Hollen would be for Boehner to let the House vote on a Senate-passed bill that extends tax cuts for household income of up to a quarter-million dollars.

REPRESENTATIVE CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: The full House should be able to work its will; Democrats and Republicans together. And it's important that speaker put the good of the country above Republican House caucus politics.

WELNA: But Republicans have not budged. Minority leader Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor to scold President Obama.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: This isn't John Boehner's problem to solve. He's done his part. He's bent over backwards. Mr. President, how about rallying your party around a solution? How about getting Democrats to support something?

WELNA: Democrats say they do support something: President Obama's deficit reduction plan. And majority leader Reid wonder aloud if Boehner's chief concern was getting re-elected as speaker on January 3rd.

SENATOR HARRY REID: If he showed leadership and had walked out there and said, this is the right thing for the country, so we're all going to vote on this, Democrats would vote for it and enough Republicans would vote for it to pass something that would take us away from that fiscal cliff. But this brinksmanship and this silliness that's going on over there, that you wouldn't do in an eighth grade government election...

WELNA: Maine Republican Senator Olympia Snowe is so fed up with how Congress has behaved that after 34 years, she's retiring.

SENATOR OLYMPIA SNOWE: We're in the heels of having just concluded another election, and here we are today in a virtual stalemate and deadlock about how to proceed and whether or not we can even achieve any kind of solution to this problem other than to let it run its course to the worse result.

WELNA: Lawmakers return next Thursday to try to prevent that from happening. But Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia does not have high hopes.

SENATOR SAXBY CHAMBLISS: This is one time that I think things are so crazy that I have no idea what ought to happen, seriously.

WELNA: And it would appear he's not alone. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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