WASHINGTON — The House last night safely carried America to the other side of the fiscal cliff, but not without some high-wire antics.
The Republican-led House voted 257-167 for final passage of the White House-Senate tax deal that reversed the country’s plunge into a fiscal abyss of massive tax hikes and deep federal spending cuts.
After hearing his colleagues vent about the deal in two closed-door meetings, House Speaker John Boehner brought the plan to the floor exactly as it had been negotiated — turning back demands from his rank and file to pile on spending cuts.
In the end, the deal won lopsided support from Democrats and enough support from the GOP to send the legislation to President Obama’s desk, where it is expected to be signed into law. This ends a two-month standoff between Obama and Republicans that brought the country to the economic brink.
“The fact is the deficit is still too high, and we’re still investing too little in the things that we need for the economy to grow as fast as it should,” he said.
Hours earlier, a mini-rebellion by Republican lawmakers threatened to derail the bill. But Boehner abruptly changed course and let the compromise go to a straight up-or-down vote.
The dramatic turnaround unfolded a day after the United States sailed off the fiscal cliff, missing the midnight New Year’s Eve deadline that would have meant massive tax hikes on every American and huge federal spending cuts.
If the House hadn’t salvaged the deal, workers would have received dramatically lighter paychecks by next week, when more pay would have been withheld for higher federal taxes.
Rep. Mike Grimm (R-SI) called himself a “reluctant” supporter of the deal.
“I don’t want everyone in my district’s taxes to go up, so I have to do what’s responsible,” he said. “There’s some good stuff in there. I just really wish there could have been some spending cuts.”
Republicans railed against the absence of deficit-reducing spending cuts in the Senate bill, which focused on limiting tax hikes to individual incomes over $400,000 and family incomes over $450,000.
A nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office report saying that the deal would add $3.9 trillion to the national debt only fanned the GOP uprising.
The CBO also calculated that there was a 41-to-1 ratio of tax hikes to spending cuts in the bill.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the No. 2 Republican in the chamber, emerged from an afternoon GOP conference meeting and declared: “I do not support the bill.”
The GOP meeting was dominated by a “steady stream” of lawmakers going to the microphone and blasting the bill, a participant told The Post.
Boehner offered members two options: amending the Senate bill with spending cuts, or putting the Senate bill to a vote. There was no guarantee the Democratic-led Senate would support any changes.
The speaker ultimately abandoned the first option.
House Democrats also griped about the deal’s tax cuts for families earning up to $450,000 a year.
Despite significant resistance from liberals who balked at Obama surrendering his long-held demand for a tax-hike threshold of $250,000, most House Democrats fell in line after a meeting with Vice President Joe Biden.
Republicans were clamoring to add more spending cuts to the bill and send it back to the Senate, although the move threatened to blow up the compromise carefully crafted by Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
The Senate passed the deal by 89-8 yesterday just after 2 a.m., two hours after the country technically fell off the cliff.
Adding to the Capitol Hill pressure cooker were fears of a fiscal-cliff sell-off when Wall Street reopens today, and a deadline to fix the mess before noon tomorrow when a new Congress is sworn in.
In addition to extending Bush-era tax cuts up to the $400,000 and $450,000 thresholds, the Senate deal also postponed for two months the cliff’s across-the-board federal-agency cuts.
The rich also got hit with higher taxes on their capital gains, dividends and inheritance over $5 million, while Bush-era tax cuts were preserved for the vast majority of filers.
Low-income households will benefit from the extension of various tax credits, including child and college-tuition credits.
Unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless will be extended for another year.
The deal did not include an extension of the payroll tax cut, allowing the rate to revert to 6.2 percent from the current 4.2 percent.
Source: NY Post