WASHINGTON -- President Obama is still trying to negotiate an arrangement with Congress to head off or to postpone tax increases on working people and the massive cuts scheduled to begin after Jan. 1.
No bill dealing with this, however, is on the schedule of either house in Congress, both of whose members are returning to Washington Thursday, Dec. 27, after the Christmas break.
The talk here is that a small deal to head off the spending cuts and most of the tax hikes could have enough votes to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate if Republicans don't use the filibuster to block the deal. GOP leaders have not yet promised that they will avoid using that filibuster.
If any bill raising taxes on the rich were to have a chance of passing in the House, however, it would have to be done in a bi-partisan fashion. The 191 Democrats could get it through, for example, if they had the agreement of 26 Republicans. It is the only combination that could approve the tax hikes on the rich that the president is demanding.
Observers of the scene in Washington say that at least some of the needed GOP votes could come from people who are retiring or from among those defeated in the November elections who wouldn't have to fear reaction from right-wing sections of their constituencies.
Another scenario is that Congress could let things go off the fiscal cliff and allow income taxes to go up on everyone as now scheduled on Jan. 1 and then, in a few days, craft a deal to cut those taxes for the majority, but not for the rich, and combine that vote with another that would postpone the $109 billion in automatic cuts.
The benefit of this approach to spineless Republicans is that, as of Jan. 1, no lawmaker would have to vote for a tax increase on anyone, since taxes would already have gone up automatically. Any votes would then involve decreasing tax rates for the majority of Americans back to 2012 levels.
Photo: Groups protest in Freedom Plaza in Washington. Jacquelyn Martin/AP