House Speaker John Boehner is attempting to shift pressure to the Democratic-controlled Senate as President Obama and congressional leaders are set to return to the negotiating table Dec. 27.
Obama is set to depart Hawaii, where he has been vacationing, late on Dec. 26. The Senate is scheduled to be in session Dec. 27 for the first time since recessing Dec. 21 for the Christmas holiday.
House members are on standby to return quickly if a fiscal cliff- and sequestration-avoidance deal is struck, which would require a vote by the lower chamber.
Boehner and his office have been mostly quiet since the Ohio Republican leader was forced to cancel a Dec. 20 vote on the major portion of a bill he crafted that would have raised taxes on the wealthiest Americans due to a lack of support from his fellow Republicans. That defeat was a major political blow for the speaker.
The same evening, the House passed a Boehner-pushed bill that would cancel $500 billion in defense cuts set to kick in Jan. 2 if no fiscal deal is reached.
But as the president and lawmakers return to Washington ahead of a Dec. 31 deadline to pass a package that would pare the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion and eliminate the requirement for those defense cuts and an equal amount of domestic cuts, Boehner says the Senate now possesses the fiscal football.
“The House has acted on two bills which collectively would avert the entire fiscal cliff if enacted. Those bills await action by the Senate,” Boehner said in a statement released Dec. 20. “If the Senate will not approve and send them to the president to be signed into law in their current form, they must be amended and returned to the House.
“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 speaker said. “The House will take this action on whatever the Senate can pass, but the Senate first must act.”
A senior House aide recently said the fiscal situation offers the Senate “a chance to show it can actually amend a bill” then “send it back to the House to move the process forward.”
Though some in Washington and around the nation are skeptical about the prospects for a fiscal accord, Boehner indicated he is ready to re-start talks with Obama and congressional Democrats — and, perhaps most importantly, his own House Republican caucus.
“The lines of communication remain open, and we will continue to work with our colleagues to avert the largest tax hike in American history,” Boehner said, “and to address the underlying problem, which is spending.”
The latter comment leaves open the possibility that some defense cuts could be required to strike a broader deal.
Asked last week by Defense News whether the two sides could hit the $1.2 trillion deficit-reduction target without touching the Pentagon budget — which peaks at $600 billion annually — Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member John McCain, R-Ariz., replied: “I just don’t know.”