Senate passes fiscal-cliff fix hours after midnight deadline; political gamesmanship moves to the House

WASHINGTON — The United States officially went over the fiscal cliff at midnight; but in the wee hours that followed, the Senate passed a bill to avert the cliff’s most feared economic damage, the result of a bipartisan deal that received support from 89 senators.

The deal, crafted by Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, extends the current tax rates for individuals earning less than $400,000 per year and couples earning less than $450,000 annually.

It patches the alternative minimum tax to prevent it from hitting middle-class Americans, and prevents the federal estate tax from rising. The deal also delays a promised budget sequester from taking effect for two months. (RELATED: McConnell, Biden reach tentative deal on sequester)

Senate Republicans signed off on the deal in a caucus meeting around 5 p.m. Monday. Democrats were a harder sell: Biden came to the Hill to make the case for the deal around 9:00 p.m. — an effort that was for the most part successful, with just three Democrats voting against the compromise.

But the vote occurred nearly two hours after midnight, with senators waiting for the Congressional Budget Office to score the bill, though ultimately they voted without the score. Senators, staffers, reporters and capitol police rang in the New Year inside the Capitol.

There were holdouts on both sides: Democratic Sens. Tom Carper, Michael Bennett and Tom Harkin voted against the bill, along with Republican Sens. Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, Chuck Grassley, Richard Shelby and Rand Paul. (RELATED: Rand Paul accuses Democrats of raising taxes just to “stick it to those rich people”)

Many who voted for the bill said it was not without misgivings.

“This agreement isn’t my ideal option, but I firmly believe going over the cliff isn’t an option at all,” said Nebraska Republican Sen. Mike Johanns in a statement released after the vote.

“Neither side got everything it wanted in this deal,” said Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey in a statement. “I had to accept provisions I did not like — my preference would have been to avoid higher taxes for all Americans. But I believe this legislation is the best we could do for taxpayers and job seekers in Pennsylvania.”