Senate to hold New Year's Eve vote on Biden-GOP fiscal cliff deal

The Senate will vote on legislation to extend tax rates on annual income under $450,000 on New Year's Eve. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the vote would be held after a Congressional Budget Office score was received on the bill, which would prevent looming tax hikes on most households and put off for two months spending cuts scheduled by the sequester. 

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) predicted a strong Democratic vote behind the deal negotiated by Vice President Biden and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), while Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) predicted the vote would be held before midnight, but that didn't happen.

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"The disagreements on this provision, that provision, and the other provision are large and wide," Schumer said. "But the number of people who believe we should go over the cliff rather than vote for this is very small."

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said he, like many Democrats, wanted the $250,000 threshold for tax hikes that President Obama campaign on. But he said the new revenue would nonetheless be "significant," causing him to support the compromise.

"We can't do what we need to do on everything from food safety to Medicare without additional revenues and asking the wealthy to pay a little bit more, and we've succeeded in doing that," Brown said.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said he'll also support the measure, but Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) declined to comment immediately after the caucus meeting. "Not right now," he said.

The House could vote as soon as Tuesday on the bill, though it is uncertain whether it would draw significant GOP support. 

House GOP leaders promised to "review" the legislation.

“The House will honor its commitment to consider the Senate agreement if it is passed," the leaders said in a statement issued by Speaker John Boehner (Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.). "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.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has signed off on the deal, and released a statement saying she would present the deal to her conference once a final agreement was approved by the Senate.

“I understand at the present time, Senate Democrats are meeting with the Vice President. When a final agreement is reached and passed by the Senate, I will present it to the House Democratic Caucus,” she said.

The support from Democratic leaders comes despite opposition from some liberal groups, union leaders and Democratic senators, who have raised objections. 

Biden met with Senate Democrats on Monday night to build support for the deal. The meeting went on for nearly two hours, but some Democrats emerged predicting a solid vote in favor of the deal.

"I feel very, very good. I think we'll get a very good vote tonight," Biden said as he left the meeting. He wouldn't predict how the House and Senate would vote.

The agreement will extend Bush-era income tax rates on individual income up to $400,000 and on family income up to $450,000, according to a senior GOP aide. It will adjust the estate tax rate to 40 percent, up from 35 percent, but maintain the exemption for all inheritances below $5 million.

It would postpone the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester for two months.

Some Democrats had raised objections to extending tax rates on income up to $450,000, and because of details related to an extension of the estate tax that is also a part of the deal. Some Senate Democrats specifically objected to Biden's agreement to index the the estate-tax exemption to inflation.


“Its [sic] not a good fiscal cliff deal if it gives more tax cuts to 2 percent and sets the stage for more hostage taking,” AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka wrote in a Twitter post on Monday night.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, was the first Senate Democrat to pan the emerging deal.

“We’re going to lock in forever the idea that $450,000 a year is middle class in America? Need I remind people that at $250,000 a year, that’s the top 2 percent income earners in America?” Harkin said in comments on the Senate floor Monday morning. “I know the president keeps saying he wants to protect tax cuts for the middle class.

“Have we forgotten average income earners in America are making $25,000, $30,000, $40,000, $60,000 a year?” he said. “That’s the real middle class in America and they are the ones getting hammered now.”

Harkin and Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Sanders, a liberal independent, met with Reid shortly after noon to voice their concerns with details of the package they learned of through the media.

The conservative group Heritage Action for America came out against the deal and said it would score votes on the bill. 

This story was posted at 8:28 p.m. and was updated at 1:05 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2013.