Senate Quickly Passes 157-Page Deal on Fiscal Cliff
December 31, 2012 - 9:18 pm
(UPDATED FROM AN EARLIER VERSION)
As the clock ticked toward (and past) the fiscal cliff, the Senate reached a deal with President Obama and quickly brought the 157-page agreement to the floor for a vote.
Just past 2 a.m., after only about 10 minutes of debate, it passed 89-8. At least 60 votes were needed to send it to the House.
“Each of us could spend the rest of the week discussing what a perfect solution would have looked like, but the end result would have been the largest tax increase in American history,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said before the vote. “…So it took an imperfect solution to prevent our constituents from very real financial pain. But in my view, it was worth the effort.”
The “no” votes were from Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
“The House will honor its commitment to consider the Senate agreement if it is passed,” Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) tweeted 20 minutes away from midnight.
“Decisions about whether the House will seek to accept or promptly amend the measure will not be made until House members — and the American people — have been able to review the legislation,” House GOP leadership said in a statement.
“When a final agreement is reached and passed by the Senate, I will present it to the House Democratic Caucus,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said earlier in the evening.
The deal includes on a $400,000 ceiling for individuals ($450,000 for families) for the extension of Bush-era tax cuts (those above will be taxed at 39.6 percent) and a two-month delay on budget cuts to be offset in part by new tax revenue. That was a Republican concession. Long-term unemployment benefits are also extended for one year.
On the White House’s part, Joe Biden gave in on the estate tax in a deal to spare estates worth as much as $15 million.
“We’re going to save 99 percent of the people. We’re going to make those tax rates, permanent, which is what I’m hearing, which is good,” Paul said on CNN.
“The only thing that kind of confuses me is if it’s good to protect 99 percent of people from a policy akin to drowning, then why is it good then to go ahead and throw the 1 percent overboard and raise the taxes on those? Maybe because they can afford it?” he said. “Well, the problem is that a lot of us work for rich people.”
“This agreement rescues 99 percent of Americans from individual and estate tax increases in 2013, and then makes these lower rates permanent, providing certainty and creating jobs,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), one of the many GOP “yes” votes, said. “But the Medicare fiscal cliff is still ahead of us, which is why Senator Corker and I have a proposal to deal with the out-of-control spending that will soon bankrupt the programs seniors rely on to pay their medical bills. If we don’t deal with this during the debt ceiling debate, we are on the road to becoming Greece.”
After reaching agreement with McConnell, Biden scrambled to Capitol Hill to sell it to the Democratic caucus. Emerging nearly two hours later, when asked what his selling point had been, the veep told reporters, “Me.”
The deal included a stop to President Obama’s order raising salaries for federal workers — including members of Congress. Some lawmakers had vowed to bring legislation to stop the pay boosts for folks who haven’t really done their jobs.
“Good news. In deal we will STOP any pay increase for Congress. Thank goodness. Good reason to vote for it,” tweeted Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).
Not that the late-night marathon session didn’t have some levity. At one point, BuzzFeed’s D.C. bureau chief tweeted that McCaskill “just stormed out of the Senate Dems meeting on the fiscal cliff deal.”
“Seriously? This is silly. I walked out of caucus to get my phone which I left in my car. Get a grip press,” McCaskill tweeted back.
And lawmakers did pause just long enough to ring in 2013.
“Happy New Year from the US Capitol,” tweeted Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).
After the vote, Cornyn — who is rising to the rank of Minority Whip this week — said he voted for the bill because it prevents a “huge tax increase” on most Americans, but is “dismayed at the lack of seriousness by the president on dealing with the core issues of our fiscal problems.”
“Our spending is unsustainable and it is high time the president and his party engage in meaningful dialogue to get this county’s spending under control,” Cornyn said.
Obama released a statement calling on the House to pass the bill “without delay.”
“Today’s agreement builds on previous efforts to reduce our deficits,” he claimed. “Last year, I worked with Democrats and Republicans to cut spending by more than $1 trillion. Tonight’s agreement does even more by asking millionaires and billionaires to begin to pay their fair share for the first time in twenty years. As promised, that increase will be immediate, and it will be permanent.”