House Approves 'Fiscal Cliff' Measure

The House has followed the Senate, and passed a bipartisan compromise that permanently prevents tax rates from rising on household income below $450,000. It also puts deep spending cuts on hold until March. At the White House, President Obama hailed its passage.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene. Congress can at least say it started the new year without blowing up the economy. The House approved a plan that eliminates scheduled higher taxes for most Americans, and puts off spending cuts for now. President Obama praised its passage last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Thanks to the votes of Democrats and Republicans in Congress, I will sign a law that raises taxes on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans, while preventing a middle-class tax hike that could have sent the economy back into recession and obviously, had a severe impact on families all across America.

INSKEEP: That was the good news. Critics in both parties note the scaled-back agreement does not reduce the ominously large U.S. budget deficit. In fact, putting off tax hikes and spending cuts does exactly the opposite, and lawmakers dropped long-term proposals to manage federal debts.

GREENE: The measure passed the House last night, mainly with Democratic votes. Two-thirds of House Republicans opposed it. NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Earlier in the day, even moderate House Republicans were up in arms over the bill sent over by a Senate that had voted in the middle of the night, and passed it 89 to 8. Steve LaTourette is a retiring Republican from Ohio.

REP. STEVE LATOURETTE: My recommendation would be to not take a package put together by a bunch of sleep-deprived octogenarians on New Year's Eve.

WELNA: Like many House Republicans, Arizona's Jeff Flake - who moves over to be his state's junior senator tomorrow - wanted to amend the Senate bill with a slew of spending cuts.

REP. JEFF FLAKE: We're over the cliff. Let's get some spending cuts. I - the - I know people are worried about the market response tomorrow. There may be a market response tomorrow; there will be a bigger response if we don't deal with debt and deficit in a serious way. So...

WELNA: But after two closed-door meetings of the House GOP caucus, it became clear that not enough Republicans were ready to risk blowing up the compromise struck in the Senate. The bill was then rushed to the House floor, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi thanked Speaker John Boehner for his unusual willingness to allow a straight-up-or-down vote, even though a majority of Republicans ended up voting against the bill.

REP. NANCY PELOSI: While this bill doesn't accomplish all that we need to do to grow the economy, reduce the deficit and strengthen the middle-class, it is a good way for us to have a happy start to a new year by taking this first step.

WELNA: It is also a step that, while skirting the fiscal effects of going over the cliff, leaves the national debt to grow by another $4 trillion over the next decade. And as Virginia Democrat Jim Moran noted, last night's vote does little to settle other looming crises in store for the new Congress that starts tomorrow.

REP. JIM MORAN: It sets up three more fiscal cliffs over the next three months: when appropriation spending expires on March 27th, when the debt ceiling has to be increased at the end of February, and when the sequester has to be dealt with at the very same time.

WELNA: But for now, the first fiscal cliff - and its threat to the economy - are gone, along with 2012. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

GREENE: Republicans hope the budget game now turns in their favor. Having taken taxes off the table, Republicans can return to more comfortable ground of demanding that Democrats cut spending - or they could, except that many Republicans actually say they want to avoid scheduled cuts to the Pentagon.

INSKEEP: That's one of the complexities of the debate to come.

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