Published: January 1, 2013
WASHINGTON — House Republicans reacted with anger Tuesday afternoon to a Senate-passed plan to head off automatic tax increases and spending cuts, putting the fate of the legislation in doubt just hours after it appeared Congress was nearing a resolution of the fiscal crisis.
Lawmakers said that Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the No. 2 Republican, indicated to his colleagues in a closed-door meeting in the basement of the Capitol that he could not support the legislation in its current form. Many other Republicans were voicing stiff objections to a plan that they saw as raising taxes while doing little to rein in spending. Several conservatives assailed it on the House floor as the chamber convened at noon for an unusual New Year’s Day session.
The aides said that Speaker John A. Boehner, who had pledged to put any measure the Senate passed on the House floor for a vote, was mainly listening to the complaints of his rank and file and had not taken a firm position on the legislation, though he had clear reservations.
The situation loomed as a significant test for Mr. Boehner, who had been unable to pass his own proposal to increase taxes only on $1 million in income and above. He has said repeatedly that he would allow a vote on the Senate bill, but he has also said he did not want to pass a bill with predominantly Democratic votes. Public opposition from Mr. Cantor, who has up to this point sided with Mr. Boehner in the fiscal fight, would also complicate his position.
Representative John Campbell, Republican of California, said: “There’s not a lot of support for the bill as is. I personally hate it. The speaker the day after the election said we would give on taxes, and we have, but we wanted spending cuts. This bill has spending increases. Are you kidding me?”
After taking the pulse of its membership, the Republican leadership was expected to try to determine how to proceed on the legislation with the 112th Congress about to come to a close Thursday.
Democrats emerged from their own closed-door meeting with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. generally sanguine about the deal, if not ecstatic. Few Democrats, if any, suggested a Democratic rebellion was in the works after a forceful — and lengthy — presentation by Mr. Biden, which walked them step by step through the negotiations, the legislation and the path forward on future deficit confrontations.
“It is clear that the vice president and the president are convinced that they have done the right thing. They don’t see it as a perfect deal though, and nobody else does,” said Representative Elijah Cummings, Democrat of Maryland.
It appeared that members were favoring trying to amend the measure and send it back to the Senate.
“I would be shocked if this bill doesn’t go back to the Senate,” said Representative Spencer Bachus, Republican of Alabama.
With just two days to go before a new Congress convenes, the House has essentially three choices: reject the bill, pass it as written by the Senate after what is certain to be a robust, even rancorous debate, or amend the bill and quickly return it across the rotunda to the Senate. Should the House choose to amend the measure, it would almost certainly imperil its chances of becoming law before the new Congress convenes. The Senate compromise, which enjoyed wide bipartisan support, was so hard fought and senators do not anticipate taking another vote on it.
Any failure to pass the measure before the 112th Congress ends as of noon Thursday would require the process to start over in the new 113th Congress, meaning the Senate would have to vote again with a changed membership due the departure of several veteran lawmakers and the arrival of newcomers from both parties as a result of victories in the November elections.
But the strong, bipartisan 89-to-8 vote in the Senate about 2 a.m. on Tuesday will put strong pressure on the House to approve the legislation since a defeat would essentially leave the House responsible for a steep series of tax increases and spending cuts that some economists warn could send the nation back into a recession.
Yet it was clear Tuesday morning that many House Republicans were disenchanted with the plan, which, while containing many concessions that angered Democrats, still favors the latter party’s priorities and imposes a tax increase on the wealthiest Americans.
“I am halfway through reading it and haven’t found the cuts yet,” said Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, who generally votes against budget bills. “It’s part medicinal, part panacea, and part treating the symptoms but not the underlying pathology.”
Democrats have their own issues with the measure because of what they see as too many concessions on taxes, making it apparent some combination of Democrats and Republicans will have to come together behind the measure if it is to clear the House and be sent to President Obama for his signature.