Sahil Kapur

Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.

Articles by Sahil

With the fiscal cliff rapidly approaching, President Obama was unflinching in his tax stance on Friday, threatening to use his leverage to force Republicans into an unenviable position if they fail to agree to a deal in time.

After a White House meeting with congressional leaders, Obama held a news conference to issue a tough ultimatum to Congress: reach a deal now or block my middle class tax cut in the new year.

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The two leading champions of weakening the Senate filibuster on Friday criticized a bipartisan proposal that was unveiled in the afternoon with scaled-back reforms, and they pushed for their own package to make more sweeping changes to the rules.

Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Tom Udall (D-NM) promptly said the alternate proposal put forth by Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Carl Levin (D-MI) is too weak and does nothing to prevent senators from filibustering quietly and escaping public accountability for their obstruction -- the centerpiece of the Merkley-Udall "talking filibuster" plan.

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At the White House meeting Friday, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told President Obama and congressional leaders that the House won't move on the fiscal cliff until the Senate first acts on one of its bills, either by passing it in full or amending it.

The readout from his office:

"At the top of the meeting, the Speaker reminded the group that the House has already acted to avert the entire fiscal cliff and is awaiting Senate action.  The leaders spent the majority of the meeting discussing potential options and components for a plan that could pass both chambers of Congress. The Speaker told the President that if the Senate amends the House-passed legislation and sends back a plan, the House will consider it - either by accepting or amending. The group agreed that the next step should be the Senate taking bipartisan action."

After the White House meeting on the fiscal cliff, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told reporters that the two leaders of the Senate will try to find a solution that can pass Congress.

She called the meeting "constructive" and "candid" and said Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) made clear he will not move before the Senate acts first.

Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Carl Levin (D-MI) on Friday unveiled a bipartisan proposal to change filibuster rules, a scaled back plan to prevent Democrats from using the so-called constitutional option to weaken the minority's power.

The proposal (PDF) would permit the majority leader to bypass motions to begin debate on legislation and in return guarantee the minority party two amendments. It would also increase the number of judicial nominations that can be expedited.

The plan is the product of bipartisan negotiations between a number of senators to achieve a resolution that satisfies Democrats' concerns with the minority's abuse of the filibuster but avoid the use what Republicans dub the "nuclear option" to change the rules with 51 votes early next Congress.

Meanwhile, Democratic champions of robust filibuster reform say they have the requisite 51 votes.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has 51 Democratic votes to reform the filibuster, the two leading champions of weakening the minority's power to obstruct business said Friday.

An aide to Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) told TPM he believes Reid -- who has vowed to move forward using the constitutional option next month if Republicans don't sign on -- has secured the necessary votes.

Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) concurred, according to The Hill, saying: "The crucial thing for all of you to know is Harry Reid’s got 51 votes to do the Constitutional option at the beginning of the Congress. My sense is if he can’t get agreement on the other side, then he’s going to go forward."

The two senators are pushing a "talking filibuster" which would change the rules to require filibustering senators to occupy the floor and speak if they want to halt Senate business.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) also said Democrats have 51 votes to make something happen.

Meanwhile, Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Carl Levin (D-MI) are pushing a scaled back reform package they hope will win enough Republican votes to change the filibuster without using the constitutional option.

Senate Democrats are not interested in cutting a short-term deal with Republicans to delay the fiscal cliff, a keyed-in aide told TPM, amid rumblings that such an option may be on the table to delay the impact of the fiscal cliff.

"We're not interested in a short-term deal because [we're] not kicking the can down the road again," said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because negotiations are ongoing.

President Obama will discuss options with the top four congressional leaders in a high-stakes White House meeting Friday afternoon at 3 p.m.

President Obama is expected to discuss a scaled-back offer to avoid the fiscal cliff at a White House meeting Friday at 3 p.m. with the top four congressional leaders.

Details are sketchy and the White House and congressional leadership aides declined to discuss them. But according to reports citing anonymous Republican and hill staffers, the offer will reportedly tweak President Obama's most recent proposal to Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) with some enticements to win over GOP votes.

The New York Times' John Harwood, citing a GOP budget source, tweeted that there may also be a 60-90 day plan to give party leaders more time to reach a comprehensive agreement.

The country reaches the fiscal cliff on Jan. 1.

A bipartisan group of senators seeking to avoid a far-reaching filibuster reform proposal has presented Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) with a scaled-back version, according to the Huffington Post.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said the plan will, as summarized by Huffington Post, "limit the use of the filibuster in some cases, such as on a motion to proceed to debate, and also include provisions allowing for amendments for the minority."

Democratic and Republican sources told TPM the results of the bipartisan negotiations will likely be shared with rank-and-file members during caucus lunches Friday.

Changing filibuster rules ordinarily requires a two-thirds majority. Reid has vowed to use the Constitutional option, if need be, and do so with a bare majority using a rare procedural tool early next month.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell isn't sticking his neck out this time.

The Kentucky Republican has previously stepped in at the last minute to save House Republicans from themselves in desperate moments like this -- during the 2011 debt limit near-crisis and the year-end debacle over extending the payroll tax cut. But now, with the fiscal cliff right around the corner, he's laying low and steering clear of trouble, eager not to be seen as disrupting any progress but signaling no intention of swooping in to save the day again.

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