The Timing of the Fiscal Cliff

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Without a plan to avert the “fiscal cliff,” Congress realistically has two days on which it can pass a bill this year: Dec. 28 and 31. The President and the Senate are in charge after Speaker Boehner’s alternative proposal, known as “Plan B,” failed to win enough Republican support to even make it to the House floor. Members of Congress left town Thursday night with the impression they would return to work Dec. 27, but nothing has been scheduled.

If the Senate passed a bill Dec. 27, the House Rules Committee could schedule a vote for the following day. The last time the Senate held a roll call vote in the week between Christmas and New Years was in 1963, according to the Senate Historical Office.

Despite the fiscal cliff’s Jan. 1 deadline, Congress could theoretically pass a bill in 2013 before the next Congress gavels in. Since 1933, when the 20th Amendment moved Congress’s opening day to Jan. 3, a sitting Congress has only met three times on Jan. 1 or 2: to discuss the threat of world war in 1941, to determine the threat of Chinese intervention in Korea in 1951, and to pass a host of domestic and foreign aid measures in 1971. A much more likely scenario would be for the next Congress to address the budget issues when its session begins on Jan. 3. In other words: Merry Cliffmas!