WASHINGTON -- House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is calling the House back into session on Sunday, apparently in hopes the Senate will send it measures to avert the so-called fiscal cliff that the Senate has already essentially rejected, according to a House source familiar with Boehner's plans.
“The House has acted on two bills that collectively would avert the entire fiscal cliff," the GOP source said Boehner told House members on a Thursday afternoon conference call. "We passed H.R. 8 at the beginning of August to stop all of the tax rate increases that are set to occur on January 1 under current law. And we’ve passed legislation to replace the entire sequester with responsible spending cuts."
The Senate has voted similar measures down, and instead passed a bill that would preserve tax rates on income under $250,000 for couples and $200,000 for individuals.
Republican House leaders have been calling on the Senate to take up the bills again, however, noting that revenue bills are supposed to start in the House.
“These bills await action by the Senate. And as I, Eric, Kevin and Cathy said yesterday in a joint statement: if the Senate will not approve these bills and send them to the president to be signed into law in their current form, they must be amended and returned to the House," Boehner said on the call, referring to Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and GOP Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.).
"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. The House will take this action on whatever the Senate can pass –- but the Senate must act," Boehner said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) echoed Boehner later Thursday in Senate floor remarks, saying that the Senate should take up those House bills.
"If Democrats were really serious, they’d proceed to a revenue bill that originated in the House, as the Constitution requires," McConnell said, even as he also asserted that time was short and that he would take any fresh suggestions from President Barack Obama, who is expected to consult congressional leaders Friday.
“Last night, I told the president that we’re all happy to look at whatever he proposes. But the truth is, we’re coming up against a hard deadline here," McConnell said, adding that "Republicans aren’t about to write a blank check for anything Senate Democrats put forward just because we find ourselves at the edge of the cliff."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has mocked the idea of taking up the House bills, saying Boehner has all the power he needs to bring the Senate bill to a vote.
He did so again in response to McConnell's remarks, arguing that most Americans won't think much of the idea that the country is slipping over the fiscal cliff because of a procedural objection from the House called a "blue slip." The House issued a blue slip for the Senate bill on taxes because the Constitution's origination clause says tax bills must start in the House.
"Now, we know that Republicans have buried themselves in procedural road blocks, everything we try to do around here. And now they are saying, well, we can't do the [Senate bill] because … it will be blue-slipped," Reid said. "How does the American people react to that?"
He also argued that if the objection was real, the House could take up the identical bill that has been introduced by House Democrats, noting that at one point Boehner was poised to do so.
"The Speaker was going to bring it up to kill it, but he couldn't kill it and then we moved to debacles," Reid said, referring to Boehner's failed effort last week to pass a "Plan B" that would have extended the Bush-era tax rates on income above $1 million. "It's the mother of all debacles. That was brought up in an effort to send us something. He couldn't even pass it among the Republicans, it was so absurd."
If the Senate does not comply with Boehner's demands, as Reid suggested it would not, that would leave less than 36 hours to craft and pass a last-minute stopgap to avert the fiscal cliff before Jan. 1.
Many members of Congress have speculated to HuffPost that House Republicans could not agree to any deal that could conceivably be seen as raising taxes until Jan. 3, when the new session of Congress begins. At that point, the Bush-era tax cuts will have expired across the board, and any measure to restore some of the rates -- including the Senate bill -- will technically be a tax cut rather than a tax hike.
The fiscal cliff refers to the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts combined with the beginning of some $1 trillion in spending cuts mandated by Congress last year in the deal to raise the debt ceiling. Also set to expire are emergency unemployment benefits and the 2 percent payroll tax holiday, as well as fixes Congress has made to stop dramatic jumps in the alternative minimum tax and scheduled cuts in Medicare payments to doctors.
If none of those outcomes are avoided, economists warn that over the course of the year, the country could fall back into a recession.