Obama Calls for Open Votes on Mini-Bill if Reid-McConnell Negotiations Don’t Bear Fruit

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 28: President Barack Obama makes a statement to the press in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House after meeting with Congressional leaders to discuss ‘fiscal cliff’ negotiations December 28, 2012 in Washington, DC. Congress has until January 1, 2013 to reach a compromise on the budget impasse before automatic tax hikes and budget cuts kick in.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Speaking just now at the White House, President Obama said Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell are still negotiating on a big package of some sort to avert the fiscal cliff. But what was more interesting was what Obama outlined as a fallback possibility if Reid and McConnell couldn’t agree.

In that case, he said he thought congress should enact a kind of mini-bill that would extend Bush-era income tax rates on households with AGI below $250,000 (he characterized this as avoiding a middle class tax hike, but in fact payroll taxes will go up regardless of what happens) and that extends federal Unemployment Insurance funding. Most interestingly of all he specifically delved into congressional procedure and called for up or down votes in both houses of congress on such a bill.

This is an important difference. In the Senate, it’s the difference between what the median senator (roughly Ben Nelson) will back, and what the sixtieth senator (a fairly conservative Republican) will back. In the House, it’s the difference between what the median House member (a moderate Republican, such as they are these days) will back and what the median House Republican (a ferocious right-winger) will back. Now Obama has no authority to force either Mitch McConnell or John Boehner to do that. But open votes might be appealing to GOP leaders. It would be a way for them to refuse to agree to a deal with Obama without actually bearing the consequences of going over the fiscal cliff.