Confronted with a revolt among the rank and file, House Republicans abruptly scrapped a vote Thursday night on legislation allowing tax rates to rise for households earning $1 million and up, complicating attempts to avoid a year-end "fiscal cliff" that threatens to send the economy into recession.
The legislation "did not have sufficient support from our members to pass," Speaker John Boehner conceded in a brief statement. At the same time he challenged President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to work on legislation to avoid across-the-board tax increases and deep spending cuts due to take effect in less than two weeks.
"The Senate must now act," said the Ohio Republican, who has noted recently that he has taken risks in supporting higher tax revenues during several weeks of fruitless negotiations on the fiscal cliff.
In a statement released a short while later, the White House said the president's "main priority is to ensure that taxes don't go up on 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of small businesses in just a few short days. The president will work with Congress to get this done and we are hopeful that we will be able to find a bipartisan solution quickly that protects the middle class and our economy."
Reid's office sounded a more combative note. "The only way to avoid the cliff altogether is for Speaker Boehner to return to negotiations and work with President Obama and the Senate to forge a bipartisan deal," spokesman Adam Jentleson said.
Earlier, emerging from a hurriedly-called evening meeting of House Republicans, Ohio Rep. Steve LaTourette said Boehner had told lawmakers he's "going to call the president and he's going to go down and talk to him and maybe they can hammer something out."