WASHINGTON — We have a deal. Late in the evening on New Years Day, Congress put out a trampoline to catch the country, 20 hours after it fell off the fiscal cliff, but before it hit the ground and broke any bones.
The House passed the bill late Tuesday evening in a vote that split the House Republican Leadership.
House Republicans spent the better part of the day protesting what they said were insufficient spending cuts relative to tax increases in the deal, negotiated by Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Though the deal had overwhelmingly passed the Senate in the wee hours of the morning — 89 to 9 — for a time on Tuesday, it was unclear whether it would make it through the House unamended. (RELATED: President Barack Obama schedules ‘fiscal cliff II’ for February)
Republican concerns over insufficient spending cuts prompted talk of amending the bill and sending it back to the Senate, but support for that plan collapsed after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made clear that he would not bring his chamber back to consider an amended version of the bill.
When a Republican whip count in the early evening failed to come up with the requisite votes to pass the amended bill, Speaker of the House John Boehner brought the bill to the floor unamended.
The bill passed 257-167, with just 16 Democrats voting no, and only 85 Republicans voting yes.
One of those Republicans was Boehner, whose vote was symbolic as well as practical: the speaker rarely casts a vote on the House floor. His leadership team, however, was not on the same page. The second and third-ranking Republicans in the House, Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, voted no on the bill, splitting with the speaker.
Cantor came out against the bill earlier in the day, prompting talks of a rift. But Cantor and Boehner later made a show of unity, walking down the stairs together into the GOP Conference meeting just before the House headed to the floor.
House Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Budget Chair Paul Ryan both voted in favor of the bill, along with the speaker.
Ryan’s vote contrasted with the positions of Sens. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul on Tuesday morning. The two potential 2016 presidential contenders each voted no.
But Ryan justified his vote by saying that elected officials need to work within the framework of divided government.
“The American people chose divided government,” Ryan said in a statement. “As elected officials, we have a duty to apply our principles to the realities of governing. And we must exercise prudence. We must weigh the benefits and the costs of action – and of inaction. In (the fiscal cliff bill), there are clearly provisions that I oppose. But the question remains: Will the American people be better off if this law passes relative to the alternative? In the final analysis, the answer is undoubtedly yes. I came to Congress to make tough decisions – not to run away from them.”
Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle were quick to say that this was not the deal of their dreams.
Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly voted yes, but described the bill as “far from perfect.”