House Takes Up Compromise Senate "Fiscal Cliff" Bill

WASHINGTON (January 1, 2013)—U.S. House Republicans planned a closed-door meeting Tuesday to decide their next move after the Senate overwhelmingly approved compromise legislation aimed at averting a fiscal cliff of across-the-board tax increases and sweeping spending cuts to the Pentagon and other government agencies.

The Senate endorsed the legislation early Tuesday in an 89-8 vote that came hours after Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky sealed a deal.

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, voted for the bill.

“Like many Americans I am disappointed it took so long to reach an agreement allowing us to avoid the so called fiscal cliff,” she said Tuesday.

“The agreement is not perfect, but it leaves in place important tax cuts that protect 99% of working Americans. I would prefer not raising taxes on anyone, but the president and Senate majority had the votes to raise taxes even more and this agreement prevents most of those increases,” she said.

“This measure also extends unemployment benefits, extends key business tax credits and prevents harmful cuts to Medicare and our national defense,” she said.

The bill would prevent middle-class taxes from going up, but would raise rates on higher incomes.

It would also block spending cuts for two months, extend unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless, prevent a 27 percent cut in fees for doctors who treat Medicare patients and prevent a spike in milk prices.

The measure ensures that lawmakers will have to revisit difficult budget questions in just a few weeks, as relief from painful spending cuts expires and the government requires an increase in its borrowing cap.

President Barack Obama urged the House to act quickly.

“There’s more work to do to reduce our deficits, and I’m willing to do it. But tonight’s agreement ensures that, going forward, we will continue to reduce the deficit through a combination of new spending cuts and new revenues from the wealthiest Americans. And as we address our ongoing fiscal challenges, I will continue to fight every day on behalf of the middle class and all those fighting to get into the middle class to forge an economy that grows from the middle out, not from the top down,” he said.

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner pointedly refrained from endorsing the agreement, though he's promised a vote on it or a GOP alternative right away, but he is expected to encounter opposition from House conservatives, and it's unclear when the vote would occur.

Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., arrived at the Capitol in late morning, and both bid "Happy New Year" to greeters, but didn't say anything substantive.

Boehner planned to brief his caucus in the afternoon.

Biden scheduled a separate meeting with House Democrats to reprise his role of Monday night when he promoted compromise to Democrats before that chamber voted.

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