With only a week left before a deadline for the US to go over a “fiscal cliff”, lawmakers played a waiting game on Monday in the hope that someone will produce a plan to avoid harsh budget cuts and higher taxes for most Americans from New Year's Day. Though Republicans and Democrats spent the better part of a year describing a plunge off the cliff as a looming catastrophe, the nation’s capital showed no outward signs of worry, let alone impending calamity.
The White House has set up shop in Hawaii, where President Barack Obama is vacationing. The Capitol was deserted and the Treasury Department — which would have to do a lot of last-minute number-crunching with or without a deal — was closed.
So were all other federal government offices, with Obama having followed a tradition of declaring the Monday before a Tuesday Christmas a holiday for government employees, notwithstanding the approaching fiscal cliff. Expectations for some 11th-hour rescue focused largely on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, in part because he has performed the role of legislative wizard in previous stalemates.
But McConnell, who is up for re-election in 2014, was shunning the role this year, his spokesman saying that it was now up to the Democrats in the Senate to make the next move.
“We don't yet know what Senator Reid will bring to the floor. He is not negotiating with us and the president is out of town," said McConnell's spokesman, referring to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat. “So I just don't know what they're going to do over there,” he said. Two-day-old tweets on leadership websites told the story insofar as it was visible to the public.
House Speaker John Boehner's referred everyone to McConnell. McConnell’s tweet passed the responsibility along to Obama, saying it was a “moment that calls for presidential leadership.”
Reid’s tweet said: “There will be very serious consequences for millions of families if Congress fails to act” on the cliff .
The next session of the Senate is set for Thursday, but the issues presented by across-the-board tax hikes and indiscriminate reductions in government spending, were not on the calendar.
The House has nothing on its schedule for the week, but members have been told they could be called back at 48 hours notice, making a Thursday return a theoretical possibility.
However, aides to the Republican leaders in Congress said there were no talks with Democrats on