Members of the U.S. House of Representatives have agreed to vote on a Senate-passed bill that would avert the so-called “fiscal cliff” of automatic tax increases and mandated spending cuts.
The Republican-dominated House will take a straight up-or-down vote after three days of intense negotiations. The Senate passed the measure in the early morning hours of Tuesday.
Some conservative House members wanted to add more spending cuts to the plan, but did not have enough support among their fellow lawmakers to take such action. Aides to the Senate Democratic leadership had told reporters that chamber would not take up any bill that was amended by the House.
Earlier Tuesday, House Democrats and Republicans met separately to discuss the deal. Republican House Speaker John Boehner and his deputy, Eric Cantor, issued a statement saying there was “universal concern” among House members about the lack of spending cuts in the Senate bill. Cantor went even further, saying he would not support the Senate measure.
President Obama and congressional Republicans have sparred for more than a year over tax rates, the extent of government spending, chronic budget deficits and the country’s mounting debt.
The number two House Democrat, Steny Hoyer, earlier acknowledged that the Senate plan was a compromise that would only partially satisfy each party.
“By definition, a compromise has elements in it that each party does not like. But by definition it also has things in it that each party should like. The speaker (Boehner) said that if the Senate passed a bill he would put it on the floor for a vote. The (Democratic) leader (Nancy Pelosi) has pointed out that we expect that to happen. We think that’s in the best interest of the American people,” Hoyer said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urged members of the Republican-dominated House to move quickly to vote on the bill.
“It’s long overdue for us to have this solution to go forward and remove all doubt as to how we, what comes next for our country. So we expect, the American people deserve, an up-or-down vote on what was passed in the Senate,” Pelosi said.
Under the plan, taxes would increase for individuals making more than $400,000 a year and couples earning more than $450,000, the first U.S. income tax increase in 20 years. The package also would extend unemployment benefits for a year and boost taxes on large inheritances.
The compromise delays mandated cuts to defense spending and domestic programs for two months, setting up a future battle between the parties. Analysts have said that without a compromise, the $500 billion in austerity measures could eventually plunge the U.S. economy into another recession.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has met with fellow Democrats to raise support for the bill. President Barack Obama has urged the House to pass the bill “without delay.”
As the House of Representatives convened, House Chaplain Patrick Conroy prayed for God to “give each member the grace of courage to forge a constructive solution for the good of the nation and for all Americans.”
The fiscal cliff bill is the result of two days of marathon negotiations between the White House and Senate Republicans. It was passed in an unusual vote early on New Year’s Day, 89-8.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the compromise was an “imperfect agreement” that will keep tax hikes from affecting most Americans. He also thanked Vice President Biden, who worked with Senate leaders to craft the deal.
“We’ve taken care of the revenue side of this debate. Now it’s time to get serious about Washington’s out-of-control spending. That’s a debate the American people want, it’s the debate we’ll have next and it’s a debate Republicans are ready for,” McConnell said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid thanked McConnell for his hard work on the compromise deal and urged House members to follow the Senate’s bipartisan action.
“I hope the new year will bring a new willingness on the part of the House Republicans to join Democrats in the difficult but rewarding work of governing,” Reid said.
Even as U.S. leaders wrangled over the tax and spending issues, they soon face a decision whether to increase the country’s borrowing limit, which hit its current $16.4 trillion cap on Monday. Officials say the country will be able to pay its bills for another two months, but by then will need to increase the debt ceiling, an action likely to spark another extended debate over Washington’s spending priorities.