Senate Democrats are unlikely to bring senators back to revote on an amended fiscal cliff package, if the House sends them one.
Though the Senate passed a deal by a lopsided 89-8 vote early Tuesday morning, House Republicans are contemplating adding amendments to the bipartisan tax agreement forged by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on New Year’s Eve.
House Republicans are unhappy that the Senate bill (HR 8) does not include more discretionary spending cuts. But a senior Senate Democratic aide said the Senate will not contemplate taking up an amended fiscal cliff package from the House that contains new spending cuts. The aide added that House Republicans should not have stepped away from White House negotiations if they needed spending reductions to get the deal.
Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., questioned the logistics of even getting all of the senators from the 112th Congress back to Washington on Wednesday. There’s an unusually short time horizon to complete action on the legislation to avert the tax portion of the fiscal cliff and extend a host of other provisions, including health provisions affecting Medicare patients and providers. The 113th Congress begins on Thursday, and if a measure is not passed by both chambers before then, the Senate bill will die. Any action to roll back tax increases that took effect Tuesday would have to begin anew in the 113th.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced in the early morning hours Tuesday that no further roll call votes were planned in the current Congress. The Nevada Democrat noted that any action on an emergency supplemental spending bill for Superstorm Sandy recovery efforts would likely have to be done by unanimous consent, if the House passes an amended version of that disaster relief bill.
“We want to wait and see what the House does on Sandy, and I think whatever we do on Sandy will have to be done by unanimous consent anyway, so I wouldn’t expect any votes until we come back here and reconvene on Jan. 3, the day after tomorrow,” Reid said.
There has been no indication that the plan will change, meaning that any House amendment that could not get unanimous consent would be doomed — with Senate Democrats seeking to blame House Republicans for tax increases that have already become law. Bush-era tax rates expired Dec. 31.
Senate Republican leaders were watching to see what, if any, changes the House makes but were reserving judgment.
“It’s the House’s prerogative to amend legislation,” one aide said, adding that the bill won the support of stalwart Senate conservatives. Those include Pennsylvania Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, a former leader of the fiscally conservative group the Club for Growth, and both of the conservative GOP senators from Oklahoma, Tom Coburn and James M. Inhofe.
The dynamic between the House and Senate increasingly looks like a replay of the December 2011 standoff over an extension of a payroll tax cut, in which the Senate worked out an agreement that, like the fiscal cliff deal, received 89 votes on the floor, only to run into trouble in the House. Asked about that comparison, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., tried to sound optimistic.
“I hope that we don’t have a re-enactment of that where the Republicans in the House painted themselves in the extreme of not wanting to find compromise and a solution,” Pelosi said.
Senate Democrats still in town were following the action in the House with a mixture of trepidation and scorn.
“There is a really unprecedented degree of extremism and dysfunction in the House Republican caucus, and I hope that doesn’t disrupt the progress we’ve made on the fiscal cliff,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said on the Senate floor.
Sam Goldfarb and Humberto Sanchez contributed to this report.