WASHINGTON U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday urged the Senate to pass its version of legislation to avert the "fiscal cliff," in a sign that congressional efforts to avoid a budget crisis are coming back to life days ahead of the year-end deadline.
In a statement issued by Boehner and his top lieutenants, the Republican leadership team said "the Senate must act first" to revive efforts to avert the $600 billion in automatic tax hikes and spending cuts due to be triggered on January 1.
They promised that the House would weigh whatever legislation the Senate produced.
Last week, Boehner's back-up plan to keep most income tax rates low collapsed amid opposition from fellow Republicans who opposed raising taxes on those making more than $1 million a year.
The failed effort left uncertainty about what the next steps would be in avoiding the "fiscal cliff," which economists have warned could hobble the U.S. economy and lead to another recession.
The Republican leaders added that if the Senate sent the House new "fiscal cliff" legislation, "The House will then consider whether to accept the bills ... or to send them back to the Senate with additional amendments. The House will take this action on whatever the Senate can pass, but the Senate first must act."
"The lines of communication remain open," the leaders said, borrowing the same characterization they used for Boehner's ultimately unsuccessful talks with President Barack Obama over the past month.
The House Republican leaders argued that it was the Senate's turn to come up with a legislative solution because the House had produced two bills earlier this year to avert the "fiscal cliff." One would have continued the Bush-era's low income tax rates for another year, despite strong Democratic opposition to continuing the tax break for household incomes above $250,000.
Another bill would have replaced $109 billion in automatic spending cuts due to begin next month by stopping all of the planned military cuts and placing the entire burden on domestic activities, including some social safety net programs funded by the federal government.
Those bills were passed by House Republicans knowing they would be stopped in the Democratic-controlled Senate, which is insisting on raising tax revenues to help reduce the federal deficit.
(Reporting By Richard Cowan; Editing by Paul Simao)