Battles on cuts yet to come after fiscal cliff deal
The White House and congressional Republicans were gearing up for even bigger economic showdowns after a messy compromise on the fiscal cliff crisis was finally agreed by the House of Representatives.
The fiscal cliff deal, passed after days of disarray that highlighted the extent of the partisan divide in Washington, raised taxes on the wealthiest but postponed for two months a decision about $110 billion in spending cuts to the federal budget.
The fudge is almost certain to put the White House and Congress at loggerheads again next month or in early March. As well as the looming battle over spending cuts, the two sides also face a standoff over raising the federal debt ceiling.
President Barack Obama, who arrived back in Hawaii yesterday to resume his interrupted holiday, hailed the fiscal cliff deal as the fulfilment of an election promise to raise taxes on the rich.
However he spent little time savouring the moment, instead devoting much of his statement on the congressional vote to the battles ahead.
Expressing his frustration with Republicans in Congress, he warned that failure to raise the debt ceiling would be dire. “The consequences for the entire global economy would be catastrophic, far worse than the impact of a fiscal cliff.”
The new 113th Congress is scheduled to begin work today, but the November election left its make-up virtually unchanged from its predecessor. The Republicans retain a majority in the House and the Democrats a majority in the Senate.
Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, is pessimistic, viewing the fiscal cliff showdown as unnecessary and anticipating future collisions.
“This whole thing is trumped up,” Mr Sabato said. “We’ve known about the fiscal cliff for 17 months. There’s no excuse for what’s happened. It’s pitiful and it’s going to happen again.”
He said the two sides remained polarised. “The parties don’t speak the same language. It’s very clear that the Republican caucus does not like President Obama personally. There is no deference to an election victory. We always used to have that. You got a bit of a honeymoon and a bit of a mandate when you won an election. And now there’s nothing.”
Tuesday proved to be an especially bad day for the Republicans. The vote in the House exposed the depth of divisions not only between Democrats and Republicans but within the Republican party. In the House, the Bill was passed by 257 to 167, but the breakdown on party lines showed 151 Republicans voting against the measure, with only 85 Republicans in favour of it.
The divide cut through even the party leadership in the House, with speaker John Boehner voting for it, and the majority leader Eric Cantor and the whip Kevin McCarthy, both more conservative figures than Mr Boehner, voting against.
Republicans expressed anger with Mr Cantor and Mr McCarthy for earlier calling on colleagues to rally behind Mr Boehner in voting for the Bill and then doing the opposite themselves.
Many Republicans, especially those backed by the Tea Party, want to remain ideologically pure, able to go back to their districts saying they had not voted for tax increases.
Mr Boehner’s inability to control his own caucus, in particular the Tea Party bloc, is one of the reasons politics in Washington has become so divisive.