House Wrestles With ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Deal
(WASHINGTON) -- Following the dramatic early-morning passage of a "fiscal cliff" deal in the Senate, lawmakers in the House of Representatives huddled on New Year's Day to decide whether they could support the same bipartisan compromise on taxes and spending.
Vice President Joe Biden, who brokered the deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), was back on Capitol Hill seeking to shore up support for the plan among Democrats.
House Republicans, meanwhile, planned to meet behind closed doors to weigh whether they would accept or amend the Senate plan and schedule a vote.
Leaders from both parties dodged questions from reporters as they walked to and from meetings in the chamber's halls, saying only "Happy New Year" in response to questions.
While the Congress technically missed the midnight Dec. 31 deadline to avert the so-called cliff, both sides expressed eagerness to enact a post-facto fix before Americans go back to work and the stock market opens Wednesday.
"This may take a little while but honestly I would argue we should vote on it today," said Rep. Tom Cole, (R-Okla.), who sits on the Budget Committee. "We know the essential details and I think putting this thing to bed before the markets is important."
"We ought to take this deal right now and we'll live to fight another day, and it is coming very soon on the spending front," he added.
The Senate passed legislation shortly after 2 a.m. that would extend current tax rates on 98 percent of Americans, raise taxes on the wealthiest earners and delay by two months the pending automatic spending cuts to defense and domestic programs, known as the "sequester."
The measure passed by an overwhelming majority vote of 89-8, boosting the prospects that enough House members would follow suit to make it law.
"I've said all along our most important priority is protecting middle-class Americans. This legislation does that," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said early Tuesday morning prior to the vote.
The deal at hand does little to address the nation's long-term debt woes, however, and does not entirely solve the problem of the "fiscal cliff."
Indeed, the last-minute compromise -- far short from a so-called grand bargain on deficit reduction -- sets up a new showdown on the same spending cuts in two months amplified by a brewing fight on how to raise the debt ceiling beyond $16.4 trillion. That new fiscal battle has the potential to eclipse the "fiscal cliff" in short order.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said the House would not vote on any Senate-passed measure "until House members, and the American people, have been able to review" it.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California issued a statement saying of the Senate bill that she "will present it to the House Democratic caucus," tepidly throwing her support behind compromise.
President Obama, in a statement shortly after the vote, said, "While neither Democrats nor Republicans got everything they wanted, this agreement is the right thing to do for our country and the House should pass it without delay."
"There's more work to do to reduce our deficits, and I'm willing to do it. But tonight's agreement ensures that, going forward, we will continue to reduce the deficit through a combination of new spending cuts and new revenues from the wealthiest Americans."
The bill extends Bush-era tax cuts permanently for individuals making less than $400,000 per year and couples making less than $450,000 but allows the top marginal tax rate on incomes above those levels to rise to 39.6 percent.
Capital gains taxes would rise to 20 percent from 15 percent.
The measure would raise the estate tax from 35 to 40 percent for estates larger than $5 million, prevent the alternative minimum tax from hammering millions of middle-class workers and extend unemployment benefits for one year.
Lawmakers also decided at the last minute to use the measure to prevent a $900 pay raise for each member of Congress due to take effect this spring and avert a spike in milk prices by renewing some farm aid.
The steep "sequester" budget cuts scheduled to go into effect with the New Year -- a $1.2 trillion hit to defense and domestic programs -- would be postponed for two months.
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