The Senate voted in the wee hours of the morning to approve the deal to avoid the country rolling off the fiscal cliff but now the House must meet on New Years Day to vote on the measure. Below, you'll find updates from the Sun-Times, our own Lynn Sweet, and other Washington pundits as we head towards the final reckoning. Live video of the House convening will be added when available.
Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 30, 2012
1 day to the fiscal cliff
BREAKING NEWS: OBAMA ON NBC'S "MEET THE PRESS" SAYS FISCAL CLIFF OFFERS TO GOP "FAIR"
President Barack Obama is making a very rare Sunday talk show stop Sunday morning in an interview with NBC's "Meet the Press" host David Gregory. MTP executive producer Betsy Fischer Martin @BetsyMTP is giving us a sneak peak at the news with her tweets:
"Obama says his offers to Republicans "have been so fair that a lot of Democrats get mad at me."
"It's been very hard for Boehner & McConnell to accept the fact that taxes on wealthiest Americans should go up a little bit."
"I was modestly optimistic ... but we don't yet see an agreement. Now the pressure's on Congress to produce."
HOUSE, SENATE IN RARE SUNDAY SESSION
The House and Senate are in session on Sunday. It's rare to meet on a Sunday--even rarer on the Sunday between Christmas and New Year's.
COULD THERE BE A FISCAL CLIFF VOTE ON SUNDAY?
Yes, if there is a deal. So far there is no deal.
WILL THE SENATE VOTE EVEN IF THERE IS NO DEAL?
Yes, unless there is a change in the game plan. That's because Obama has called on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nv.) to hold an-up-or-down vote in the Senate even if there is no filibuster-proof compromise with the Republicans. Obama is daring the GOP to block a measure to prevent tax hikes for most people in order to preserve tax hikes for the top earners. The Senate Democrats hold the majority, so they have enough votes to push a bill through. Would that result in a bill Obama could sign on Jan. 1? Maybe not, because getting a bill passed only on Democratic Senate voters through the House will be very tough.
President Obama issued a statement on the latest fiscal cliff negotiations on Friday. Below is video and transcript of his statement.
Good afternoon, everybody. For the past couple of months, I've been working with leaders of both parties to try and forge an agreement that would grow our economy and shrink the deficit - a balanced plan that would cut spending in a responsible way but also ask the wealthiest Americans to pay a little more, and, above all, protect our middle class and everybody who is striving to get into the middle class.
I still want to get this done. It's the right thing to do for our families, for our businesses, and for our entire economy. But the hour for immediate action is here. It is now.
Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 27, 2012
4 days to the fiscal cliff
BREAKING NEWS SCOOP: GOP CONFERENCE CALL THURSDAY AFTERNOON
Republican House leaders are holding a "members only" conference call at 2:30 p.m. Thursday as the path is not clear to avoid falling off the fiscal cliff by the Dec. 31 deadline. President Barack Obama gets back to the White House at 11:45 a.m. in order to deal with the stalemate.
BOEHNER AND THE HASTERT RULE
Policy and Pragmatism 101: Making the deal means constant tending to the question of whether a negotiated package can make it to the floors of the House and Senate for a vote. The Democrats control the Senate--which means Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nv.) can call a vote--even if he needs GOP support to build a supermajority. In the House, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has a crucial decision--does he call a bill even if it fails to have support of the majority of his GOP colleagues--which means it would take Democratic votes to pass.
I write about this--and the governing principle named after former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) in my Thursday column; read it HERE.
Excerpt: The Senate -- under rules that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is trying to change -- needs a supermajority of 60 votes to pass anything, which means the majority Democrats have to woo some GOP support to get anything done.
With only a few days left, Boehner's threshold decision is whether to allow House members to vote on a measure negotiated between all the parties -- but would only pass with the help of Democratic votes. That decision trumps everything else on the table right now.
The Senate is back from Christmas break on Thursday. Boehner told members he would give them a 48-hour notice to return, which means the earliest anything can happen is Saturday.
SUN-TIMES DAVID ROEDER: MARKETS AND THE FISCAL CLIFF
Business write David Roeder reports that the markets are braced for Congress going over the fiscal cliff. Read his story HERE.
AT-A-GLANCE: WHAT IF THERE IS NO DEAL
CBS explains some of the consequences if Congress does not act on the fiscal cliff by Dec. 31: Automatic tax hikes and federal government cuts--about $110 billion a year for 10 years in an article HERE.
COMPLICATING MATTERS: HITTING THE DEBT CEILING
Obama threw in the fiscal cliff discussions lifting the debt ceiling, giving him a long-term solution to not being held hostage to the periodic need to raise the debt ceiling--since default is not an option. Now in the mix is the notice Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner gave Congress on Wednesday--that the statutory debt limit will be reached on Dec. 31, 2012.
From the Geithner letter to Congress: "the Treasury Department will shortly begin taking certain extraordinary measures authorized by law to temporarily postpone the date that the United States would otherwise default on its legal obligations.
"These extraordinary measures, which are explained in detail in an appendix to this letter, can create approximately $200 billion in headroom under the debt limit. Under normal circumstances, that amount of headroom would last approximately two months. However, given the significant uncertainty that now exists with regard to unresolved tax and spending policies for 2013, it is not possible to predict the effective duration of these measures. At this time, the extent to which the upcoming tax filing season will be delayed as a result of these unresolved policy questions is also uncertain. If left unresolved, the expiring tax provisions and automatic spending cuts, as well as the attendant delays in filing of tax returns, would have the effect of adding some additional time to the duration of the extraordinary measures. Treasury will provide more guidance regarding the expected duration of these measures when the policy outlook becomes clearer."
Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 2, 2012
5 days to the fiscal cliff
FISCAL CLIFF: BACK TO WASHINGTON
Good morning all....President Barack Obama departs Honolulu at 10 p.m. Wednesday evening, cutting short his holiday vacation to return to Washington to deal with the looming fiscal cliff crisis. We're in a stall, though I think something will work out: even if it takes a few days past the Dec. 31 deadline.
First Lady Michelle Obama and Malia and Sasha remain in Hawaii until after the New Year.
So for what does Obama return here as Washington experiences its first snowfall of the season this morning--not counting a few flurries on Christmas.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) faced a setback last week over this "Plan B" backup plan he floated--but could not call for a vote because he could not find 218 Republicans to vote it it. No Democrats would touch it.
That means the shift is towards this...something that was always a possibility--and that is Boehner "frees up" about 30 Republicans--more would be better--for a plan that passes with a majority of Democratic votes. But that would be over--probably--a compromise plan that starts in the Senate.
The Senate is due back on Thursday. House members were told they would get 48 hours notice to return--and no one has sent out that flare yet.
WATCHING WALL STREET
Watch pressure to mount for a deal if Wall Street starts reacting--negatively--to all the uncertainty surrounding the fiscal cliff.
STARBUCKS: COME TOGETHER ON FISCAL CLIFF
Well, try anything. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz asked employees in the 120-Washington D.C. area stores to write "Come Together" on coffee cups on Thursday and Friday to urge GOP and Democratic House and Senate member and Obama to make a fiscal cliff deal.
Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 22, 2012
9 days to the fiscal cliff
FISCAL CLIFF IN LIMBO AS OBAMA, CONGRESS HEADS HOME FOR CHRISTMAS
President Barack Obama hit Hawaii early Saturday morning--he spends every Christmas in his native state. The House and Senate are on Christmas break. The fiscal cliff talks are in limbo for a few days. Lawmakers should be braced to return to Washington after Christmas. Maybe even spend New Years in D.C.
A few hours before Obama flew to Hawaii, he stopped at the White House briefing room to deliver a negotiation update:
"I just spoke to Speaker Boehner and I also met with Senator Reid. In the next few days, I've asked leaders of Congress to work towards a package that prevents a tax hike on middle-class Americans, protects unemployment insurance for 2 million Americans, and lays the groundwork for further work on both growth and deficit reduction. That's an achievable goal. That can get done in 10 days.
"Once this legislation is agreed to, I expect Democrats and Republicans to get back to Washington and have it pass both chambers. And I will immediately sign that legislation into law, before January 1st of next year. It's that simple.
"Averting this middle-class tax hike is not a Democratic responsibility or a Republican responsibility. With their votes, the American people have determined that governing is a shared responsibility between both parties. In this Congress, laws can only pass with support from Democrats and Republicans. And that means nobody gets 100 percent of what they want. Everybody has got to give a little bit, in a sensible way. We move forward together, or we don't move forward at all.
"So, as we leave town for a few days to be with our families for the holidays, I hope it gives everybody some perspective. Everybody can cool off; everybody can drink some eggnog, have some Christmas cookies, sing some Christmas carols, enjoy the company of loved ones. And then I'd ask every member of Congress while they're back home to think about that. Think about the obligations we have to the people who sent us here. Think about the hardship that so many Americans will endure if Congress does nothing at all."
BOEHNER SATURDAY ADDRESS: ON AVERTING THE FISCAL CLIFF
"As you know, unless President Obama and Congress take action, tax rates will go up on every American on January 1st.
"The day after that, a mandatory 'sequester' will go into effect that will implement harmful cuts to our national defense. That is currently the law of the land.
"The House has done its part to avert this entire fiscal cliff. On the 10th of May and again on Thursday, we passed legislation that would replace the 'sequester' with responsible spending cuts. We also passed a bill to stop all of the January 1 tax hikes. The events of the past week make it clearer than ever that these measures reflect the will of the House.
"The American people re-elected President Obama on Election Day. They also re-elected a Republican majority in the House. In doing so, they gave us all a mandate. It was not a mandate to raise tax rates on families and small businesses. It was a mandate for us to work together to begin solving the massive debt that threatens our country's future.
"Unfortunately, the president and Senate Democrats have vowed to reject and veto all of our proposals while failing to offer a responsible solution of their own.
"What the president has offered so far simply won't do anything to solve our spending problem and begin to address our nation's crippling debt. Instead, he wants more spending and more tax hikes that will hurt our economy. And he refuses to challenge the members of his party to deal honestly with entitlement reform and the big issues facing our nation. That is why we find ourselves here today.
"I've challenged the members of our party to grapple with these issues, to make tough choices. And we're willing to - because Washington has a serious spending problem. This was the year the size of our debt - all 16 trillion dollars of it - surpassed the size of our entire economy. It's a grim milestone, one of many we'll have to bear if we don't come to grips with it.
"The president's solution of raising tax rates would still leave red ink as far as the eye can see. And it would hurt jobs, at a time when far too many of our citizens are struggling to find them.
"I used to run a small business. I've seen the damage higher taxes can do to jobs and families. I don't want tax rates to go up. Republicans don't want tax rates to go up. The best way to address our crippling debt is to make significant spending cuts and fix our tax code to pave the way for long-term growth and opportunity. This is an approach most Americans support, and it remains Republicans' highest priority. But we only run the House. Democrats run Washington.
"Of course, hope springs eternal, and I know we have it in us to come together and do the right thing. We will continue to work with our colleagues in the Congress and the White House on a plan that protects families and small businesses.
"For now, I wish all the American people a blessed and Merry Christmas."
Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 21, 2012
10 days to the fiscal cliff
BREAKING NEWS: BOEHNER PRESS CONFERENCE FRIDAY AT 10 A.M. EST
FORCED TO DROP HIS "PLAN B" THURSDAY NIGHT FOR LACK OF GOP VOTES
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) sent House members home for Christmas late Thursday night after he was forced to drop his "Plan B" fiscal cliff plan--for lack of GOP votes. That is, Boehner could not most of his members to go along with his proposal, which includes letting tax hikes rise for the few hundred thousand among us with household income about $1 million.
After Boehner pulled the plug he said in a statement, ""The House did not take up the tax measure today because it did not have sufficient support from our members to pass. Now it is up to the president to work with Senator Reid on legislation to avert the fiscal cliff. The House has already passed legislation to stop all of the January 1 tax rate increases and replace the sequester with responsible spending cuts that will begin to address our nation's crippling debt. The Senate must now act."
The White House said in a statement released Thursday night after Boehner threw in the towel, "The President's main priority is to ensure that taxes don't go up on 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of small businesses in just a few short days. The President will work with Congress to get this done and we are hopeful that we will be able to find a bipartisan solution quickly that protects the middle class and our economy."
Mary Kay Henry, President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), not surprisingly hit at the GOP in a statement,"Tonight, House Republicans showed their true colors. First they voted to slash funding for Medicaid, child care and other vital services. Then they refused to ask even the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share. House Republicans are willing to allow middle class taxes to increase in order to protect tax breaks for millionaires. All Americans should stand together and hold these Members of Congress accountable."
But some Democratic House members still may have to vote on cuts they would rather avoid, which brings me to...
Even if the House passed Boehner's backup plan, the Democratic-controlled Senate would not have backed the measure. So...what's next.....would Boehner go along with a plan to release about 30 Republicans to vote for a plan that would pass with mainly Democratic votes?
The Senate returns on Dec. 27. House members were told they would get a 48-hour notice to return to Washington.
Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 20, 2012
11 days to the fiscal cliff
BOEHNER TO PUSH VOTE FOR "PLAN B" EVEN WITH OBAMA VETO PLEDGE
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is putting his fiscal cliff "Plan B," his backup plan, to a vote today--even though President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the GOP plan. Boehner has a press conference today--Thursday--at 1:15 p.m. EST
Boehner has said this is part of his two-track plan; he wants to continue to negotiate with the White House while moving "Plan B" along. Except that Boehner and Obama and their teams are not making much progress on that path.
WHAT THE HOUSE WILL BE VOTING ON TODAY: DETAILS HERE
From Boehner's office:
The House of Representatives will vote today on two measures to shield families and small businesses from the looming "fiscal cliff" by cutting spending and protecting millions from tax hikes. These bills are:
The Spending Reduction Act of 2012 (H.R. 6684) replaces the president's defense 'sequester' with common-sense spending cuts and reforms, and reduces the deficit by an additional $242 billion over the original sequester. The bill focuses on stopping waste, fraud, and abuse in federal programs, eliminating government slush funds (including an ObamaCare slush fund), and reducing waste and duplication in government bureaucracies. The House passed this bill in May but Senate Democrats never took action.
The Permanent Tax Relief for Families and Small Businesses Act of 2012 (H.J. Res. 66) permanently protects millions of taxpayers from President Obama's tax rate hikes. The bill permanently extends current tax rates for everyone making less than $1 million, the $1,000 child tax credit, expensing relief for small businesses, and much more. Analysis by the nonpartisan JCT found it is a $3.9 trillion tax cut. As Speaker John Boehner said yesterday, the president can "call on Senate Democrats to pass [this] bill, or he can be responsible for the largest tax increase in American history."
OBAMA'S LATEST ON THE FISCAL CLIFF DEALS
Obama at a Wednesday press conference says he has met the GOP demands plenty: read the transcript HERE.
Fiscal Cliff Notes for Dec. 19, 2012
12 days to the fiscal cliff
SOCIAL SECURITY NOW A FISCAL CLIFF FACTOR: TO DEMOCRATIC IRE
President Barack Obama is drawing fire from his base as Democrats are grappling with lower Social Security cost of living increases Obama is open to as part of the fiscal cliff negotiations.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) on linking Social Security increases to the lower "chained Consumer Price Index" said in a statement, "In order to shield the wealthiest Americans from paying Clinton-era tax rates, Republicans are demanding cuts to programs that benefit the poorest Americans. Inequality in the United States is the worst it has been since the Gilded Age, and their cuts would make it worse, not better.
"One proposal is to reduce Social Security's annual cost-of-living adjustment through the use of the so-called chained CPI. It's a benefit cut - pure and simple - an average earner retiring in 2011 at age 65 would lose $6,000 in benefits over 15 years. It's particularly devastating for women - who live longer, rely more on Social Security, and receive lower benefits.
"At the same time, there are proposals to increase Medicare premium costs - which come directly out of Social Security payments. It's a double hit. With the chained CPI and higher premiums, seniors will have even less for their daily expenses.
"Two out of every three retiree rely on Social Security for the majority of their income, one in three for 90 percent or more. The average monthly benefit is $1,500 ($1,100 for older single women). Every day, I hear from constituents who cannot afford essential items - from hearing aids to food or medicine at the end of the month - because their Social Security check just isn't big enough. For them even a small reduction in their benefits would be devastating.
"If we want to make the Social Security COLA more accurate, we should actually raise it to reflect the increased fixed costs facing seniors, particularly medical costs. We should not put a higher burden on lower-income and middle-class seniors and the millions of American families who depend on their earned benefits. To do so in order to shield the wealthiest Americans from a tax increase is nothing less than immoral."
GOP, DEMOCRATS ARE WORKING OFF DIFFERENT NUMBERS IN FISCAL CLIFF DEBATE
Glenn Kessler, who runs the Washington Post Fact Checker column, runs through the different sets of numbers in play as Democrats and Republicans grapple with fiscal cliff debt, deficit, budget and revenue issues.
Read his column on the "dueling White House and GOP perspectives HERE.
PELOSI, WHITE HOUSE COOL TO BOEHNER "PLAN B" BACKUP PLAN
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to Andrea Mitchell on her MSNBC show after House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) unveiled his backup plan, which includes a concession--raising tax rates--albeit on households with income over $1 million. Obama also made a big concession--upping his high earner line to $400,000 from the $250,000 level.
"Speaker Boehner's Plan B does none of the above. Plan B - I would call it "Plan Befuddled." It's really hard to imagine why they even came up with it, unless they just wanted to prove to their Members that unless 218 of them were ready to raise rates, it's not going to pass. The Democrats are not going to give them that success. You can be sure of that.