Focus now turns to the House

The House returns to work on the first day of the new year, and it will have to sort out its reaction to a Senate-passed bill meant to avoid the "fiscal cliff."

The Senate bill, which the upper chamber approved in a 89-8 vote at about 2 a.m. Tuesday, continues current tax rates on individual incomes under $400,000 and family incomes below $450,000. It lets the estate tax rise to 40 percent from 35 percent but exempts inheritances below $5 million.

It postpones the sequester for two months to give policymakers more time to identify spending cuts. It also extends some farm programs — including dairy programs needed to avoid rising milk prices — and blocks a planned increase in pay for members of Congress, something that should make it easier for some to vote for it in the House.

It also extends unemployment insurance benefits for another year, without being offset.

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Because tax rates have now increased on paper, voting for the Senate-brokered agreement might also be easier for some, because the bill is now one that cuts taxes, not one that maintains current tax levels. The easy Senate vote also bodes well for House passage.

But it was still unclear late Monday night how House Republicans would react, especially given that the deal essentially delays the $109 billion in planned spending cuts, and offsets that delay with some cuts and new tax revenue.

House Republicans plan to huddle on the issue at 1 p.m.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told Reuters on Tuesday morning that the GOP had not decided when a vote would be held on the Senate bill.

"We have not made a decision yet," Cantor said, telling the news agency a decision would be made soon.

Before leaving Monday, House Republicans planned separate votes on some of these issues. For example, the GOP planned a vote on stand-alone bills to stop a congressional pay hike, and to avoid a possible doubling of milk prices.

If the House takes up the Senate bill, votes on these separate pieces of legislation may not be necessary. But as of late Monday, Republicans indicated it is unclear whether they would take up the bill as it stands or move to amend it right away. It was also unclear how quickly the House would act.

"The House will honor its commitment to consider the Senate agreement if it is passed," House GOP leaders said. "Decisions about whether the House will seek to accept or promptly amend the measure will not be made until House members — and the American people — have been able to review the legislation."

If the cliff legislation doesn't occupy the House all day, GOP leaders planned to consider other bills as well, including:

H.R. 1464, the North Korean Child Welfare Act, and

S. 3677, making technical corrections to the Flood Disaster Protection Act of 1973.

Votes on several other suspension bills that still need votes could also happen.

After its late night, the Senate returns to work at 2 p.m., and will be in morning speeches until 3:30 p.m. No additional Senate votes are expected until Jan. 3.


—This report was originally published at 7:42 a.m. and last updated at 9:34 a.m.