The Republican-controlled House of Representatives was poised to vote Tuesday night on a bipartisan plan to avert year-end spending cuts and tax increases, after House Speaker John Boehner quelled a rebellion among conservatives who threatened to derail the measure.
The bill, which raised income-tax rates on wealthier Americans and was passed overwhelmingly by the Senate early Tuesday morning, was sharply criticized by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Ill.) and other House Republicans who argued that it consisted almost entirely of tax increases and contained barely any spending cuts—a major bone of contention between the parties.
But Mr. Boehner (R., Ohio), who didn’t take a position on the bill, turned back conservative demands that the bill be amended to include more spending cuts. He argued that such changes risked killing the bill—and exposing the GOP to blame for tax increases, spending cuts and possible turmoil in the economy as a result.
That cleared the way for the House to vote on the bill late Tuesday. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said there was a “strong majority” of Democrats who would support the bill and that she was “confident it will pass” if it comes to a House vote.
“We need to avert the fiscal cliff,” said Rep. Tom Reed (R., N.Y.) after House GOP leaders announced plans to hold the long-delayed vote Tuesday night. “We need to wrap this up in this Congress, in my humble opinion, and we need to make a decision as a Congress—and that’s what they’re doing,”
The tension-filled New Year’s Day in the House was a major test of Mr. Boehner’s leadership just two days before he is to stand for re-election. It marked one more gripping episode in Congress’s torturous drive to avert the fiscal cliff—a journey that ended up breaching the Jan. 1 deadline and bumped up against a separate Jan. 2 deadline when about $110 billion in spending cuts were to kick in.
But after the Senate passed its bill to blunt the effects of the so called fiscal cliff, many House Republicans reacted in anger. A wide range of House Republicans were clamoring for a chance to vote to add more spending cuts to the bill and send it back to the Senate. “I would be shocked if this bill doesn’t go back to the Senate,” said Rep. Spencer Bachus (R., Ala.) after a two-hour strategy meeting of House Republicans.
In a closed-door caucus later Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Boehner presented GOP lawmakers with two options for overcoming an impasse, according to a senior House GOP aide.
One was to amend the Senate bill to include spending cuts and return it to the Senate. The alternative was to simply put the Senate bill to a vote.
If the House had amended the bill, and it hadn’t passed the Senate before the 112th Congress ends, the legislative process would have had to restart with the new Congress.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) said he was stunned by Mr. Boehner’s refusal to back the compromise, which was supported by nearly all Senate Republicans, including some of the most conservative members, such as Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
“That’s just madness,” he said. “We had a strong vote in the Senate. How much stronger can we make it?”
The legislation that passed the Senate is a far-reaching tax bill that raises tax rates on couples with incomes over $450,000, extends a variety of expiring business and individual tax breaks, extends expanded unemployment insurance benefits and postpones for two months the across-the-board spending cuts of the fiscal cliff.
But many Republicans were livid because the deal didn’t do more to cut spending. Even centrist Republican Rep. Steve LaTourette (R., Ohio), a retiring member who said he would vote for the Senate bill if that was his only choice, groused about the House being asked to rubber stamp a complex, little-vetted deal crafted entirely in the Senate.
“This isn’t a done deal by any stretch,” said Mr. LaTourette. “If this is the only choice, I will vote for it just to get something done.” But he questioned the wisdom of accepting, without change, “a package put together by a bunch of sleep-deprived octogenarians on New Year’s Eve.”
Corrections & Amplifications
Republicans wanted automatic spending cuts of $24 billion, known as the sequester, to be replaced with cuts in other areas and not simply be canceled. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said $24 million.House GOP Leaders Move Toward Tuesday Night Vote
House Republican leaders moved toward a Tuesday night vote on a Senate-passed agreement to avoid tax increases and spending cuts, possibly clearing the way for a final congressional vote on a deal that avoids the so-called fiscal cliff.
The abrupt shift by Republicans came after leaders suggested they might try to add $330 billion in spending cuts to the agreement amid opposition from conservatives who argued the deal didn’t include any meaningful reduction in spending. GOP leaders canvassed lawmakers about whether to push for more spending cuts before deciding to bring up the Senate bill, which passed that chamber early on New Year’s Day.
Republican leaders planned a vote in the 9 p.m. hour, GOP aides said. The decision came shortly after a closed-door GOP caucus meeting.1 HR AGO