While Democrats and Republicans continue to trade barbs, place blame and prolong the stalemate over the so-called "fiscal cliff," Republican leadership told their members to return to Washington Sunday evening - a mere 29 hours before the "cliff" goes into effect.
In a conference call with the House GOP Conference this afternoon, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., told Republican lawmakers to be prepared for votes on Sunday night.
However, the House's return to Washington is not indicative that progress is being made on the tax hikes and dramatic budget cuts set to go into effect next Tuesday.
On the same conference call, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, reiterated to his conference that the ball is in the Senate's court. He called on Senate Democrats to pass legislation the Republican-led House passed earlier this year that would extend tax rates for all wage earners and another measure that would replace the across-the-board spending cuts to domestic and defense programs with targeted cuts.
"The House will take this action on whatever the Senate can pass - but the Senate must act," Boehner said.
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had a similar message for Boehner: "Take the escape hatch we left you."
Reid called on Boehner to take up a bill the Senate passed weeks ago that would extend current tax rates for all wage earners making less than $250,000. "The way to avoid the 'fiscal cliff' has been right in the face of Republican leaders for days and days and days...," he said.
On the floor of the Senate this morning, Reid said Boehner "seems to care more about keeping his speakership" than avoiding the tax hikes and federal spending cuts set to go into place in just five days.
The latest stalemate over the "fiscal cliff" comes after Boehner's Republican Party rebuked his efforts last week to avert the "cliff." He was forced to pull a bill from the House floor just minutes before the expected vote because Democrats refused to back the measure because it doesn't raise enough revenue and too many Republicans revolted, refusing to raise taxes on anyone. The measure would have raised marginal tax rates only on households making more than $1 million.
President Obama, meanwhile, has cut his traditional Hawaiian Christmas vacation short and is back in Washington today. Before he left, he spoke on the phone with Reid and Boehner, as well as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Adding to the urgency, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the debt limit will be reached earlier than expected. In a letter to Congressional leadership, Geithner said that as of December 31, the U.S. will reach its debt limit and that the Treasury will have to take "extraordinary measures" to avoid defaulting on its borrowed obligations.