In a sign of the moment’s gravity, Boehner himself cast a rare vote: He supported the bill. So did Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), the GOP’s vice-presidential candidate last year. He parted ways from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a potential 2016 presidential contender, who voted against the measure.
But other top GOP leaders voted no, including Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.).
Boehner was humiliated just two weeks ago when the Republican rank-and-file refused to support a GOP alternative that would have permitted taxes to rise only on income over $1 million a year. But when he scheduled a vote on the Senate bill, even some of the chamber’s staunchest conservatives agreed that giving up the fight was probably the best course.
In a brief statement before leaving for Hawaii, Obama praised congressional leaders for advancing the legislation, which he said would produce $620 billion in new tax revenue. “But I think we all recognize this law is just one step in the broader effort to strengthen our economy and broaden opportunity for everybody,” he said, noting that the fight over the budget will continue when the new Congress faces the imposition of sequestration cuts in just two months.
But Obama warned again that he would not negotiate with Republicans over the $16.4 trillion debt limit, which must be raised in the coming weeks. “While I will negotiate over many things,” he said, “I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether they will pay the bills they’ve already racked up.”
It was unclear when the president planned to sign the fiscal cliff measure, which calls for the top tax rate to rise immediately from 35 percent to 39.6 percent on income over $450,000 for married couples and $400,000 for single people.
The measure will protect more than 100 million families earning less than $250,000 a year from significant income tax increases set to take effect this month — although their payroll taxes will rise with the expiration of a temporary tax cut adopted two years ago.
In addition to avoiding much of the fiscal cliff, the measure will extend federal dairy policies through September, averting a threatened doubling of milk prices. The measure also will cancel a scheduled pay raise for members of Congress.
After weeks of partisan bickering over whether taxes should increase for anyone, the compromise bill rolled through the Senate early Tuesday in a highly unusual New Year’s Day vote. The vote was 89 to 8, with both parties offering overwhelming support.
The moment served as a rare bipartisan coda to what has been one of the most rancorous, partisan Congresses in recent history. The 11 senators who are retiring received hugs and kisses from their colleagues. The current Congress ends at noon Thursday, when the new Congress will be seated, and lawmakers would have been forced to scrap the fiscal-cliff legislation and start over.