Fiscal Deal Boils in House Caldron

By Jennifer Steinhauer; Jonathan Weisman | International Herald Tribune, January 2, 2013 | Go to article overview

Fiscal Deal Boils in House Caldron


Jennifer Steinhauer; Jonathan Weisman, International Herald Tribune


Neither Democrats nor Republicans warmly embraced the compromise measure to avert the "fiscal cliff," but each pointed to some gains.

As the new year began on Tuesday, congressional efforts to head off tax increases on most working Americans shifted to the House of Representatives, where members began poring over a plan passed by the Senate in the early morning hours and Republican leaders began the delicate task of assessing the measure's fate.

The House is under heavy pressure to pass the plan after the Senate did so by an overwhelming margin. The deal, worked out in furious negotiations between Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and the Republican Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, passed the Senate by a vote of 89 to 8, with 3 Democrats and 5 Republicans voting no.

But some House Republicans expressed strong distaste for the bill's failure to narrow the United States' deficits, and some threatened to rebel against the measure. At the same time, some Democrats said they thought that the president had given too much, signaling weakness in further fiscal battles ahead.

Earlier in the day, the broad coalition that pushed the accord forward in the Senate appeared to favor House passage. Several lawmakers of both parties said they expected a sufficient number of House Republicans to join the minority Democrats in passing a measure to avert tax increases for all but the wealthiest Americans and postpone large cuts in government spending.

"I think it will pass," Representative Peter Welch, Democrat of Vermont, said on MSNBC, though he said that he and many other lawmakers would cast half-hearted yes votes. "As a fiscal package, going forward to stabilize this country, it falls well short."

Representative Charlie Dent, a Republican of Pennsylvania, said he needed to study the legislation, but added, "It is certainly better than the alternative," meaning tax increases on nearly every American.

The tax deal before the House is barely a shadow of the "grand bargain" that President Barack Obama and the House speaker, John A. Boehner, once sought -- with talk of sweeping tax reform and major revisions in the big social-spending programs -- and it would push a series of fights into the next Congress. There, most of them seem likely to be marked by the same rancorous, high-wire dynamics that have become so common.

Neither party warmly embraced the compromise measure, but each pointed to some gains. Democrats secured a full year's extension of unemployment insurance without offsetting spending cuts, a $30 billion cost. But the 2-percentage point cut to the payroll tax that the president secured in late 2010 was allowed to lapse.

Negotiators agreed to put off $110 billion in across-the-board cuts to military and domestic programs until March while broader deficit-reduction talks continued. Republicans have stoutly resisted the military cuts. The Defense Department, unsure of the outcome, had prepared to notify all 800,000 of its civilian employees that some could be forced into unpaid leave.

The House essentially faced three choices on Tuesday: reject the bill, pass it as written by the Senate or amend the bill and quickly return it to the Senate. The latter path would imperil chances of passage before the new Congress convenes on Friday. The Senate compromise was hard-fought, and senators say they have no interest in revisiting it.

Mr. Boehner, who was stung last month when House Republicans refused to support his effort to limit income tax increases to those making $1 million or more, was playing a decidedly cautious role on Tuesday.

Rather than express support, or any preference, on the Senate bill during a Republican caucus meeting, Mr. Boehner merely laid out "options" for fellow party members, according to fellow Republicans in attendance.

They said Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the No. 2 House Republican, had spoken critically of the Senate bill. …

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