WASHINGTON - Squarely in the spotlight, House Republicans are deciding their next move after the Senate early this morning overwhelmingly approved compromise legislation negating a fiscal cliff of across-the-board tax increases and sweeping spending cuts to the Pentagon and other government agencies.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, today met with rank-and-file GOP lawmakers to gauge support for the accord, and an aide said GOP leaders would not decide their course until a second meeting later in the day. That suggested that House voting might not occur early.
Vice President Joe Biden tried selling the deal in a separate closed-door gathering of House Democrats. Biden was reprising his role of Monday night, when he pushed Democratic senators to back the agreement that he and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had brokered hours earlier.
In a New Year's drama that climaxed in the middle of the night, the Senate endorsed the legislation by 89-8 early today.
It 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.
Boehner pointedly refrained from endorsing the agreement, though he's promised a vote on it or a GOP alternative right away. The exact timing of the vote was uncertain.
As the House staged a rare New Year's Day session, it was clear that there were divisions among lawmakers from both parties.
Rep. James Moran, D-Va., called it "a bad deal for America."
Rep. Jason Altmire, D-Pa., said approving it would "show the American people that this Congress isn't broken."