WASHINGTON – Senators bickered Sunday over who’s to blame for lurching the country toward a year-end “fiscal cliff,” bemoaning the lack of a deal days before the deadline but bridging no differences in the debate.
With the collapse Thursday of House Speaker John Boehner’s plan to allow tax rates to rise on million-dollar-plus incomes, Sen. Joe Lieberman said, “it’s the first time that I feel it’s more likely we’ll go over the cliff than not,” meaning that higher taxes for most Americans and federal agency budget cuts would be in line to go ahead.
“If we allow that to happen it will be the most colossal, consequential act of congressional irresponsibility in a long time, maybe ever in American history, because of the impact it’ll have on almost every American,” said Lieberman, a Connecticut independent.
Wyoming Sen. Jon Barrasso, a member of the GOP leadership, predicted that the new year would come without an agreement, and he faulted the White House.
“I believe the president is eager to go over the cliff for political purposes. He senses a victory at the bottom of the cliff,” he said.
Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, was incredulous at Barrasso’s assertion that “there is only one person that can provide the leadership” on such a vital matter. “There are 535 of us that can provide leadership. There are 435 in the House, 100 in the Senate, and there is the president – all of us have a responsibility here,” he said.
Obama already has scaled back his ambitions. Before leaving the capital on Friday, he called for a limited measure that extends George W. Bush-era tax cuts for most people and staves off federal spending cuts. The president also urged Congress to extend jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed that would otherwise be cut off for 2 million people.
“The truth of the matter is, if we do fall off the cliff after the president is inaugurated, he’ll come back, propose just what he proposed … in leaving Washington and we’ll end up adopting it, but why should we put the markets in such turmoil and the people misunderstanding or lack of confidence,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. “Why not go ahead and act now?