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.”
After many House Republicans spent the day maligning their Senate colleagues who had voted for the bill — saying they must have been “drunk,” “sleep-drived” or “blurry-eyed” to vote for such a deal — some appeared to come to the same conclusion: that an imperfect deal was better than no deal at all.
“The plan isn’t perfect, but I would not sit by as taxes go up on all Americans,” said Rep. Greg Walden, chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee, in a statement following the vote.
But Rep. Trent Franks, speaking to reporters after the vote, described it as a result of “left-wing ideology that completely ignores arithmetic and tries to repeal the laws of mathematics.”
Cantor spokesman Rory Cooper told reporters after the vote that “the Leader is proud to keep fighting the good fight and continuing to work on the real problem that is facing Washington, which is spending.”
“The Majority Leader was not happy with the bill that was passed out of the senate this morning. … He worked all day today to try to craft an alternative, as did the rest of leadership and many members of our conference,” Cooper went on. “It was clear that Harry Reid was not gonna allow an amendment to cut spending even though that was sorely needed, so Leader Cantor is very proud of Speaker Boehner and our entire conference for fighting the good fight.”
The passage of the deal averts the fiscal cliff before markets open on Wednesday. Avoiding a market impact was a main selling point for a number of Republicans in the caucus meetings who had initially wanted to push the bill.
The deal prevents taxes from rising on individuals making less than $400,000 a year and couples making less than $450,000 a year. It permanently patches the Alternative Minimum Tax to prevent it from hitting middle class Americans and keeps the estate tax from going up. The sequester is postponed for two months, with offsets to the spending cuts it would have enacted.
Though the fiscal cliff was averted, the issue is not over and done with. The sequester and the debt ceiling still hang over the Congress, and Boehner made clear that in a statement following the vote that the new Congress would focus its efforts on passing the spending cuts they failed to get on Tuesday.
“Now the focus turns to spending,” the speaker siad. “The American people re-elected a Republican majority in the House, and we will use it in 2013 to hold the president accountable for the ‘balanced’ approach he promised, meaning significant spending cuts and reforms to the entitlement programs that are driving our country deeper and deeper into debt.”