Midway through today's deja vu Senate Democratic press conference about the fiscal cliff, there was a helpful moment of face. Sen. Chuck Schumer, the master of the party's "blame it on the Tea Party" message, produced a chart from the morning's Washington Post. Schumer always has charts. But there wasn't enough time to maker a poster out of the new chart, which demonstrated only a small fiscal gap between the White House's proposal and John Boehner's.
"I was told in second grade to hold it under my chin and face the room and face the room like this," said Schumer, rotating so cameras could capture him. "Ms. McGowan, P.S. 197."
Sen. Harry Reid tapped Schumer on the shoulder. "You're a lot older, though. Which chin?"
Reporters basically ignored the chart and got leaders to re-re-re-state their position. It is this: Democrats have narrowly passed a bill that would extend all of the Bush tax rates on income below $250,000. That bill can't legally be the basis of a final compromise -- fiscal bills must originate in the House -- but Democrats refuse to move any current Republican House bill.
"Until Republicans pass our bill, there is nothing to discuss," said Reid. "We are not taking up [Plan B]."
"The president has promised a veto," said Sen. Dick Durbin. "The majority has promised, no vote in the Senate."
"We've sent them what we're willing to pass," said Schumer. "They're not getting anything [else]."
This is still confusing. Here:
- This summer, House Republicans passed a bill that would extend all of the Bush tax rates ("no tax increases for any Americans") for a year.
- Around the same time, Senate Democrats passed their bill.
- This month, Democrats in the House filed a discharge petition -- the only way the minority can get a bill on the floor -- to allow a vote on the Senate Democrats' bill. It would take a 2/3 vote of the House to pass this.
- This week, House Republicans revealed "Plan B," which splits the "fiscal cliff" solution into two bills. One permanently extends Bush tax rates for income under $1 million, and one is a sequester replacement.
- While any eventual compromise will originate in the House, Democrats refuse to allow any current Republican bill to serve as its basis.
It sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? There's a good reason.