To a tea-party-influenced crop of House Republicans, the bill to resolve the “fiscal cliff” crisis was everything they had wanted to change about the way Washington worked. Too rushed. Too bloated. Too secretive. Too expensive.
“There’s lots and lots of pork in this bill,” said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), one of its most outspoken opponents.
On Tuesday, however, it passed on their watch. After the Senate approved the compromise, it briefly appeared that the GOP-led House would rebel against the bill. But the threat faded: For many Republicans, it appeared, the risk of rejecting the bill — and courting economic calamity — outweighed their unhappiness with the bill’s contents.
The fiscal-cliff bargain had been worked out on the phone by Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), two 70-year-olds with a combined 68 years in office in Washington. They stepped in after President Obama and House Speaker
John A. Boehner
(R-Ohio) tried, and
, to reach a far-reaching agreement to tackle the debt.
Instead, McConnell and Biden lowered their ambitions and cut a “small deal.” It will raise marginal tax rates only for a sliver of high-earning individuals and avert a massive budget cut by pushing it back for two months.
But “small” was really not the the best description. The bill carries a substantial cost.
Although it will raise some taxes, it also will extend the vast majority of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts, as well as loopholes for many businesses. In all, the bill will cause deficits to rise by nearly $4 trillion over the next decade, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. But that estimated increase is based on the massive tax hikes and spending cuts scheduled to take effect without a resolution to the fiscal cliff.
House Republicans wanted the Bush tax cuts to be extended. But they had also wanted big spending cuts. To many conservatives among them, the bill looked like a massive failure of will.
“To pass something at 2 o’clock in the morning, when the senators didn’t even get a real good chance to look at it, we’re tired of that,” said Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), elected in 2010 and defeated in November. He faced the prospect of casting his final vote in Congress on this package.
“I think it’s important to do it right. There’s a lot of us who feel that way. This is what we did with Obamacare — now look what we’re living with,” Walsh said, referring to the health-care law. “We don’t want to do that again.”
The bill that McConnell and Biden crafted was also not small in a physical sense. It ran to more than 24,000 words of small type. And many of those words had nothing to do with the marquee controversies of the fiscal cliff.