For the benefit of readers who were too busy with New Year’s Eve parties and today’s football bowl games, the Senate passed a measure to attempt to avoid the fiscal cliff after the House was unable to. The bill was a compromise which had measures which both liberals and conservatives were unhappy with (which would be expected considering how far apart the two parties are). As I predicted, and to nobody’s surprise, this is coming down to the last minute. Despite passing the Senate by 89 to 8, the bill’s fate in the House remains unclear.
The reason that the two Houses of Congress are responding so differently is that Senators face state wide races while most House members are gerrymandered into safe districts. Most House Republicans are safe from challenges by Democratic opponents, but many are at a real risk of primary challenges from Tea Party members who oppose the compromises necessary for good government in their rabid opposition to the American system of democratic government. Senate Republicans are more likely to fear a nation-wide backlash against Republicans for allowing the country to go over the fiscal cliff.
John Boehner is losing what little control he had over the House Republicans. If he maintains his position as Speaker it will only because nobody else wants to be in his position. Eric Cantor has joined the conservative rebellion, with House conservatives now discussing passing the bill with amendments calling for spending cuts and returning it to the Senate. Senate Democrats say this would kill the bill.
If the House conservatives fail to get enough votes to accomplish this, there is still the possibility that Boehner would allow the full House to vote on the bill, where it might pass with votes from Democrats and enough Republicans to give it a majority. This has Boehner is a lose-lose situation. If he allows the bill to pass without the support of a majority of Republicans he weakens himself in his own party. If the bill does not pass the House, the Republicans will take the blame for the country going over the fiscal cliff.
Update: It appears that there are not enough votes to amend the bill (which would probably kill it) and there are reports that there will be a vote on the Senate bill tonight.
Update II: The House voted to approve the bill 257-167.