A fractious Republican-controlled House late Tuesday approved, 257-167, a Senate deal to head off the "fiscal cliff" of tax hikes and spending cuts that were to be triggered New Year's Day.
President Obama, who plans to sign the agreement into law, praised the deal before returning to Hawaii to rejoin his family for their remaining Christmas vacation. But he said it was just "one step" toward economic recovery and deficit reduction.
The House at first chafed at the absence of notable spending cuts in the deal. To quell GOP angst, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, offered to survey members in support of an amendment to add additional spending cuts to the package, but Senate leaders made it clear that effort would doom the agreement crafted by Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Faced with the political reality of taking the blame for going over the "fiscal cliff," combined with the economic reality that the impasse could shake the financial markets when they reopen today, Republicans coalesced around allowing a vote on the Senate package.
House Democrats supported the package, providing Boehner with critical assistance to get the deal through his chamber. Well-funded outside conservative groups put pressure on Republicans to oppose the deal because it raises taxes.
The Senate package preserved tax cuts for all but the wealthiest earners and extended unemployment benefits, among other measures. Biden spent two hours Tuesday afternoon in a closed-door meeting with Democrats to appease concerns.
Liberals are unhappy with some elements , namely the White House's concession to protect George W. Bush-era tax cuts for earners making less than $400,000, not the $250,000 threshold President Obama pledged in his re-election campaign.
The political victory for the president may be short-lived. Republicans have already shifted focus to upcoming battles to extract cuts they failed to win in these negotiations. A fight over lifting the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling is brewing in February, when a vote is required to raise the nation's borrowing authority.
A 2011 battle over the debt ceiling rattled financial markets, but Republicans say they will oppose an increase unless Obama concedes to spending cuts, particularly to entitlement programs like Medicare.
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