After weeks of negotiations to avert the so-called fiscal cliff, members of Congress and President Obama are heading toward the Christmas holiday with no deal in sight. House Speaker John Boehner called off a vote last night on his "Plan B," which would have extended tax cuts for those making less than a million dollars a year, but would have raised rates on the wealthiest Americans. He's acknowledged there weren't enough Republican votes to pass it. Meanwhile, Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland is makes history at the Capitol. David Hawkings, editor of the CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing, gives an analysis of the issues.
On where things stand on the brink of the fiscal cliff: "I would say that we are closer to going over the fiscal cliff than at any other time in my estimation. There's still 10 days to go, and miracles happen. But last night's non-vote was one of the most important legislative turning points in the last couple of years. The important thing is that there were not enough Republican votes... John Boehner has made a promise with his troops that he won't try to move any deal with Obama that can't win a majority of Republican votes. And what last night showed is that he essentially doesn't have the vote for any deal that involves any tax rate increases. So if he wants a deal on the fiscal cliff, he will have to cut a deal with Nancy Pelosi to get mostly Democratic votes and a few Republican votes for it."
On whether Obama will continue to talk to Boehner or if he will go to Reid in the Senate: "He will go talk to Harry Reid in the Senate, and he will talk to Nancy Pelosi more. And he will likely keep the lines of communication open with John Boehner, but it is clear that any deal will likely have to be a mostly Democratic deal."
On whether lawmakers will return to Washington between Christmas and New Year's: "I would say that is still likely. Sen. Harry Reid has told senators that they are expected back in town. They can make plane reservations for the morning of the 27th -- two days after Christmas. If they actually meet that day and have votes that day, it will be the first post-Christmas meeting of any Chamber of Commerce since the government shutdown of 1995."
On Sen. Barbara Mikulski becoming the first woman to chair the Senate Appropriations committee following the death of her colleague, Sen. Daniel Inouye: "She was actually third in line on the committee. Historically people get on the Appropriations Committee stay on there a long time. Sen. Mikulski has been a senator since 1987. She was actually, at the start of the week, fourth in line... behind Sen. Inouye and Sen. Pat Leahy and Sen. Tom Harkin. But both of those senators decided to stay with the committee chairmanships that they had."