WASHINGTON -- The Senate passed an agreement early Tuesday to solve the nation’s threatening fiscal crisis, a last minute plan to avert sweeping tax increases for most Americans and postponing cuts to government spending that economists say could have triggered a recession.
The deal was worked out late Monday between the White House and Senate leaders. Lawmakers missed a critical New Year’s Eve deadline Monday as they scrambled to cobble together a last-minute compromise between Democrats and Republicans on a marathon day of intense negotiations on Capitol Hill.
“This shouldn’t be the model for how to do things around here,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. told his colleagues. “But I think we can say we’ve done some good for the country.”
Approval of the deal was not certain.
The Democratic-controlled Senate overwhelmingly passed the 157-page bill, 89 to 8, just after 2 a.m. Tuesday, but the Republican-run House of Representatives still needs to vote when it returns for its first New Year’s Day session in decades. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement that the House would vote on the bill, but he declined to comment on its merits.
In a statement issued at 2:30 a.m., President Obama applauded the bipartisan support for legislation that “protects 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of small business owners from a middle class tax hike.”
“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,” Obama said.
The scaled-back package would extend permanently most the Bush-era tax cuts, while allowing them to expire – and taxes to increase – on higher incomes, individuals who make $400,000 and families who make $450,000. Individuals earning more than $250,000 and couples earning more than $300,000 would still be taxed higher because some of the value of their exemptions and itemized deductions would be phased out.
Paychecks, however, would shrink for every working American as a temporary cut in the payroll tax, enacted in 2011 to boost the economy, would end.
Talks over the final piece of the deal – $109 billion in spending cuts – dragged into the final hours of the year with the White House lobbying fellow Democrats to agree to a two-month delay.
The spending cuts would have slashed defense and domestic spending starting Wednesday, likely leading to layoffs and less services including fewer FBI agents, less housing assistance for low-income families and a delay in new equipment for the military.
With labor unions and liberal groups lobbying against the deal late Monday, Vice President Joe Biden rushed to Capitol Hill to meet with Senate Democrats to press for approval.
After the closed door meeting, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said she anticipated that just a handful of Senate Democrats would vote against the bill. “They’re concerned that it’s not a big enough deal, in other words, some are going to vote for it but they wanted a grand bargain,” she said. “He (Biden) told us about the deal, he was very clear, he answered all our questions. He basically feels we can stand proud and tall that a lot of our values were preserved.”
Negotiations over the so-called fiscal cliff marked one of the final acts for the 112th Congress – which has the distinction of passing fewer bills into law than any Congress in decades – before new members are sworn in Thursday.