The Senate returned to business Thursday with an increasing sense that the country will go over the "fiscal cliff," leading to higher taxes and deep spending cuts across the board.
"It looks like that's where we're headed," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said in opening the Senate session, saying that he doesn't see how any plan could be brought up in his chamber in time to beat the Jan. 1 deadline.
Senators were rushing back to town to begin debating an intelligence bill and an emergency spending measure for Hurricane Sandy relief, but they have no plans to take up any bills to deal with the fiscal cliff.
Mr. Reid's Republican counterpart, Sen. Mitch McConnell, revealed that President Obama called him Wednesday night to push for Senate action. He said he's now awaiting a new plan from the White House to see if it can break the gridlock.
"The leader is happy to review what the president has in mind, but to date, the Senate Democrat majority has not put forward a plan," said Don Stewart, Mr. McConnell's spokesman. "When they do, members on both sides of the aisle will review the legislation and make decisions on how best to proceed."
Mr. Obama had sought tax increases for families making $250,000 or more, and had agreed to some spending limits, though he was also seeking to add in tens of billions in new stimulus spending, including an extension of unemployment benefits.
So far, however, his dealings have all been behind closed doors with House Speaker John A. Boehner, and Mr. McConnell and his fellow Republicans want to see the president put a plan down on paper.
Across the Capitol, meanwhile, there's not even anyone to negotiate with. The House is out of session, with members back home on vacation, awaiting a call from Mr. Boehner to come back to Washington if there is a deal to vote on.
"He shouldn't have let them go," Mr. Reid chided, tossing insults at Mr. Boehner for failing to push through his own Plan B approach through the House last week.
Since that failure Thursday, Mr. Reid and Mr. Boehner have stared at each other from afar, with each asking the other to take the next step.
Mr. Boehner said his chamber already passed two other bills earlier this year to head off the tax increases, and told the Senate to act on those.
Mr. Reid said the Senate has defeated those, and instead points to a bill the Senate passed that extended tax cuts on families making $250,000 or less, but lets tax rates rise on others. That bill, however, originated in the Senate, which puts it in violation of the Constitution, which requires all revenue measures to start in the House.
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