WASHINGTON — One measure of the state of affairs in the Capitol is the chaplain’s opening prayer in Congress. On Sunday, it was not optimistic.
“Let us feel your presence today on Capitol Hill,” said Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black, a retired Navy rear admiral and the chamber’s 62nd chaplain. “Look with favor on our nation and save us from self-inflicted wounds.”
Lawmakers returned to work for a rare Sunday session as the two sides appeared no closer to resolving the standoff over New Year’s tax hikes scheduled to hit all Americans if nothing is done.
A late-night negotiating session on Saturday as top congressional aides tucked away in the Capitol only appeared to worsen the divide, despite initial optimism that the looming deadline would force a deal.
“There still is a chasm there,” said Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat, on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
While Republicans have signaled a willingness to raise taxes on income higher than $500,000 — twice the $250,000 threshold Obama campaigned on — Democrats appear unwilling to broker that deal if it also includes lower tax rates on inheritances, as Republicans want.
“So from the Republican side, those remain their highest priorities: protecting the highest-income individuals from tax increases and protecting up to 6,000 estates a year from paying an additional $1 million,” Durbin said. “We see it differently.”
Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma disputed that characterization, saying the new revenue would not resolve the nation's deficit problems unless spending on Medicare and other programs is also cut back. But he wasn't optimistic either.
“You know, I don't think anybody knows what's going to happen,” Coburn said on the same show. “The odds are that we've not seen the leadership on either side of the aisle to solve this problem.”
The Senate gaveled in at 1 p.m. (EST), with the House scheduled to follow at 2 p.m., before lawmakers retreat behind closed doors for an update on the situation from party leaders.
The Senate chaplain, a position first established in the chamber in 1789, sought heavenly intervention.
“As we gather this weekend with so much work left undone, guide our lawmakers,” Black said.