Tuesday, January 1, 2013

GOP seeks path forward in House for fiscal deal tonight

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Capitol Hill is full throttle ahead after missing the midnight deadline to avoid going over the so-called fiscal cliff. NBC's Kelly O'Donnell reports.
Updated 8:15 p.m. — After hours of delay, the House was moving late Tuesday toward giving its approval to the bipartisan, Senate-passed legislation to handle the most severe consequences of the "fiscal cliff" that onset this morning.

The House was preparing to allow an up-or-down vote as soon as tonight on the new proposal, which passed the Senate 89-8 in a 1:53 a.m. vote. The proposal would allow taxes to rise on individual income over $400,000 and household income over $450,000, while staving off a series of automatic spending cuts — known as the "sequester" — for two months.

PhotoBlog: See images of Congress working overtime to avoid fiscal cliff

Though conservatives had spent the better part of New Year's Day threatening to torpedo the legislation, GOP leaders acknowledged that they likely couldn't gather enough votes to amend the Senate bill and send it back to the upper chamber. The House Rules Committee met late Tuesday to set the parameters for a debate in the House that could result in a vote on the Senate legislation as early as this evening.

The rejiggered strategy came amid complaints from House conservatives that the Senate-passed bill doesn't include enough cuts to spending.

"The lack of spending cuts in the Senate bill was a universal concern amongst members in today’s meeting," said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. "Conversations with members will continue throughout the afternoon on the path forward.”

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If Congress doesn't come to an agreement soon, they may have to start from scratch after the new Congress is sworn in later this week. NBC's Chuck Todd has more.

The starkest signal of the trouble this plan would have in the House came when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., told fellow Republicans in a closed-door meeting that he could not support the deal.

As of late afternoon Tuesday, the lower chamber was considering amending the legislation late Tuesday — a proposition considered a dealbreaker to Senate Democrats. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., adjourned the chamber until Wednesday at noon.

"I would be shocked if this bill didn't go back to the Senate," said Alabama Rep. Spencer Bachus, R. "I think we're there on more revenue, but, you know, there is more revenue but no spending cuts."

But Senate Democrats said that the legislation was essentially a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. If the House were to change the fiscal deal, Democrats in the Senate said they would not consider it.

"There is no time left to ping-pong proposals. The speaker was kept appraised throughout the negotiations," a Senate Democratic aide told NBC News. "If House Republicans mess with this agreement that got 88 votes in the Senate, they will be solely responsible for the largest tax hike in American history."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., meanwhile called for a "straight up-or-down vote" on the Senate proposal.

If there's no conclusion of the deal, the process to address the fiscal cliff would then restart on Jan. 3, the first day of the new Congress, and 60 full hours past the deadline at which the fiscal cliff first took effect.

The standoff over the fiscal cliff, itself the byproduct of past disagreements and impasses, was symptomatic of the 112th Congress, which had been defined by intractability fueled by sharp, ideological flanks in both parties.
As the nation prepared for the beginning of the 113th Congress on Thursday, little was poised to change. Though Democrats made slight gains in November's election, Republicans maintain control of the House; Democrats keep their grip on the Senate.

Republicans' threat to torpedo the Senate deal was additionally reminiscent of other battles from throughout the two years. While Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., managed to reach an accord with Vice President Joe Biden and the Obama administration, the Tea Party-infused House judged it insufficiently conservative. All but seven Senate Republicans backed the proposal, and Biden had to spend two hours late on New Year's Eve convincing Democrats of the plan's merits, as it is.

But a familiar divide within the GOP pitting the establishment-minded dealmakers against the more ideologically directed and recently elected conservatives re-emerged on Tuesday. This divide almost resulted in a government shutdown and a default on the national debt in 2011. It again threatened Tuesday to allow the painful, across-the-board tax hikes and spending cuts to play out just as the U.S. economic recovery showed signs of accelerating.

NBC's Chuck Todd, Mike Viquiera and Frank Thorp contributed reporting.

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