December 31, 2012

Despite Tea Party Opposition, Fiscal Cliff Averted (For Now)

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In the aftermath of New Year’s Eve, most Americans spent Tuesday trying to recover from the previous night’s revelries. However, our nation’s leaders had no such time for relaxation, they were hard at work trying to starve off the fiscal cliff we had technically tumbled over after entering 2013.

Unsurprisingly, the stumbling block for an eventual deal was John Boehner’s Congressional Republicans.

The Senate passed a compromise bill early Tuesday morning, which allowed taxes to be raised on individuals making over $400,000 a year (and joint filers who make over $450,000), representing about 2% of Americans. Also included in the Senate’s version of the bill were extensions to unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed, a permanent fix for the Alternative Minimum Tax, an increase in the Social Security payroll tax, and a few other adjustments.

What the bill does not do, however, is deal with spending cuts. Those crude spending cuts, half from military spending and half from social safety net spending, will now have to be dealt with in two months’ time. Furthermore, the debt ceiling – which allows the Treasury to pay back debts it already owes, is put off until March as well.

The vote in the Senate passed 89-8, with only five Republicans voting against the bill.

The vote in the House passed 257-167, with 151 Republicans voting against it. The bill only passed because an overwhelming number of Democrats voted for it.

To put those numbers in perspective about 11 percent of Republican Senators voted against the bill, compared to about 65 percent of Republican Congressmen who voted against the bill.

That is a startling difference and one that seems to support the notion that House Republican’s extremism is reaching an almost untenable level.

When Senators like Arizona’s Jon Kyl, Alabama’s Jeff Sessions, and both of Mississippi’s Republican Senators Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran are all willing to support a bipartisan measure, it boggles the mind to hear that 65 percent of their colleagues in the House won’t join them.

Remember, President Obama won an election where he, in no uncertain terms, campaigned on the objective of seeing Americans making over 250,000 dollars a year have their taxes go up. The compromise bill coming out of the Senate was no slam dunk for Democrats. The bill left progressive’s grumbling, with Democrats in both chambers voting nay.

However, the House Republicans were the clear outlier. Tea Party leader, and House Majority leader, Eric Cantor publicly came out against the compromise. As John Boehner, the supposed leader of the Republicans, was trying to rally support for the compromise bill, his number two was busy publicly undermining him.

In the end, Cantor – as well as Kevin McCarthy, the number three GOP leader in the House – voted against the bill.

This split in the Republican leadership could be a hint of whats to come, with the more radical Cantor marshalling support against Boehner. It is not hard to imagine the fight leading to an attempt to unseat the Speaker of the House by Cantor and his Tea Party supporters.

Had the bill not passed, Wednesday could have easily brought about a deep shock to the markets (which were closed on Tuesday), imperiling America’s already fragile economic recovery.

This is not the first time that House Republicans have imperiled the American economy by refusing to support critical legislation, however the stark difference between the Senate and the House on Tuesday’s votes provides us with the clearest picture of the House Republicans’ reckless radicalism. Furthermore, following Tuesday’s split in their leadership, the House Republicans no longer have a leadership core that can hope to curtail their zealotry.

Even anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist, who has seen to it that 40 of the 47 Republican Senators sign a pledge to never raise taxes, came out in support of the bipartisan bill. (Ludicrously, Norquist insisted that voting for the bill did not entail voting for a tax increase. He argues that since the Bush Tax Cuts technically expired on January 1st, the bipartisan compromise is actually a tax cut for 98 percent of Americans. While he might be right that the bill does not violate the letter of the pledge, it certainly violates its spirit.)

So, while we did kind-of, sort-of, avoid the fiscal cliff, in reality we’ve only finished the first round of what promises to be a partially bloody bit of political theater.

In the coming battle over spending cuts, the House Republicans’ radicalism will not so easily be overcome by overwhelming Democratic support, which was the saving grace for Tuesday’s compromise. After all, it is the Democratic members of the House who will want to avoid drastic cuts to the social safety net.

For any eventual package of spending cuts to pass both chambers of Congress, it will likely have to come with significant compromises from House Republicans – which is, after today’s theatrics, a dubious proposition at best.

Hold onto your hats, folks. We’re just getting started.

Original Author: Noah Karr-Kaitin