The Senate rung in the New Year by overwhelmingly passing an 11th-hour deal to avert — or at least postpone for two months — the fiscal cliff debacle, with 89 senators backing the compromise hammered out by Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and only eight voting against it. Neither liberals nor conservatives got all that they wanted, but there are no deal-breakers in the bill, either. The tax rates for individuals making $400,000 or households earning $450,000 would permanently rise to 39.6 percent (from 35 percent), all other tax rates would stay the same, unemployment benefits would be extended for a year, and lawmakers would get another two months to deal with $110 billion in automatic spending cuts. "This is what compromise looks like," says Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post. Now the bill goes to the House. "Grandstanding will abound," but "presumably a combination of House Democrats and Republicans can be rounded up to pass the bill."
House Majority Leader John Boenher (R-Ohio) said late Monday that "the House will honor its commitment to consider the Senate agreement," and the package's easy passage in the Senate "bodes well for House passage," says Pete Kasperowicz at The Hill. Now that we've gone over the cliff, House Republicans will be voting for tax cuts for almost all Americans instead of tax increases. But some GOP congressmen have already said they will vote against the bill, and if House Republicans try to amend it to make it more palatable for conservatives, there's a good shot the whole deal falls apart. "Boehner Republicans have proven time and again that they are capable of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory," says Howard Kurtz at The Daily Beast.
"We'll see if the Republicans in the House can become functional instead of dysfunctional," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) after his chamber's early-morning vote. "My guess is that House Republicans will ultimately sign off on the agreement," says James Joyner at Outside the Beltway.
It achieves none of the fiscal austerity they wanted, and some number of them will prefer the status quo — the full-on going over the cliff — to this deal. But they can't possibly stand in the way of tax cuts for essentially their entire constituency in the name of reducing spending. In a perfect world, we'd get real tax reform, including ending such abominations as the Alternative Minimum Tax. But I don't see any path to doing good right now; the best we can seem to get is averting self-imposed disaster.
Or at least postponing it. And this might be the real reason House Republicans help pass this compromise: The fiscal cliff was a political loser for the GOP, and on the big spending issues, "the GOP lived to fight another day" with this deal, says The Washington Post's Rubin. In two months, the "sequester" — roughly $110 billion in spending cuts — would kick in, and Obama will also need Congress' approval to raise the debt limit. "In the context of the debt-ceiling fight, the GOP can try to pressure Obama to pursue, finally, a meaningful spending-cut plan." So stay tuned, says Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post. Sometime in February or early March, we'll get Round 2 of this fight, and "it's likely to make the fiscal cliff fight look like child's play."