Obama calls congressional leaders as ‘fiscal cliff’ optimism fades

WASHINGTON -- President Obama and lawmakers returned to Washington on Thursday to try to jump-start the stalled “fiscal cliff” talks, even as optimism that there would be a deal before the year-end deadline remained in short supply.

Obama placed calls to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) before leaving Hawaii for Washington, D.C., late Wednesday afternoon. The White House announced the calls as the president landed in Washington on Thursday, but did not release details of the conversations.

Still, there did not appear to be a breakthrough in the effort to avoid a pile of tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect in the new year. Reid opened business in the Senate on Thursday with a scathing indictment of House Republicans and the “dictatorship” of Boehner. Reid said the blame, should a deal fail to be brokered, will be aimed at House Republicans.


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“If we go over the cliff, we’ll be left with the knowledge that it could have been prevented with a single vote in the Republican controlled House of Representatives,” he said on the Senate floor.

“Nothing can move forward in regards to our budget crisis until Speaker Boehner and [Senate Minority] Leader McConnell are willing to participate in coming up with a bipartisan plan,” Reid added. “So far, they are radio silent.”

Reid accused Boehner of delaying talks until after Jan. 3, when he will presumably be reelected as speaker of the House. The attempted Plan B vote last Friday, which ended in an embarrassing failure for Boehner, made it “obvious” that he’s trying to shore up support among far-right conservatives.

The best course of action, Reid claimed, was the Democratic-led proposal from the Senate, which passed earlier in the year, to extend President George W. Bush-era tax cuts for those making less than $250,000 a year.

But in spite of Reid’s faith in the Senate “escape route,” he said that it still looks like the country will ultimately veer over the cliff.

“It looks like that’s where we’re headed,” he said.

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Boehner, along with other top Republicans, issued a statement Wednesday that “the Senate must act first” to jump-start negotiations, stating that “the lines of communication remain open.”

And Boehner spokesman Michael Steel dismissed the Nevada senator in a statement after Reid’s spirited remarks.

“Sen. Reid should talk less and legislate more. The House has already passed legislation to avoid the entire fiscal cliff. Senate Democrats have not,” Steel said.

Boehner is convening his far-flung troops on an afternoon conference call. The House is on recess, with members on 48-hour notice to return if warranted.

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Lisa Mascaro in Washington contributed to this report.