How John Boehner Finally Got a Fiscal-Cliff Deal to Obama

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The speaker managed to wrangle an up-or-down vote on the Senate compromise and win its passage, averting major tax increases on all Americans.

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Joshua Roberts/Reuters

A last-ditch deal to spare millions of Americans from big tax increases is about to become law after surviving a rebellion from conservative House Republicans who wanted to change the measure.

The House voted 257-167 to send the the bill brokered by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden that overwhelmingly passed the Senate in the early hours of New Year's Day to President Barack Obama. Despite conservative opposition, including 'no' votes from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy and 149 other Republicans, the measure easily cleared the House with the support of House Speaker John Boehner and the overwhelming majority of House Democrats.

"Thanks to the votes of Democrats and Republicans in Congress, I will sign a law that raises taxes on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans while preventing a tax hike that could have sent the economy back into recession," Obama said shortly after the bill passed.

It was unclear until the last minute that the vote on the Senate legislation would even occur, but Boehner's vote-counting operation determined that an amended version of the bill would not have a chance in the Senate.

Here's what changed and how the bill ended up passing: Boehner presented House Republicans with two options, according to a GOP leadership aide. The first option would be to amend the Senate bill to add spending cuts. McCarthy counted votes on that proposal. Had there been enough Republican votes for passage, the speaker would have brought that to the floor for a vote.

"The Speaker and the Leader both cautioned members about the risk in such a strategy," the aide said.

If there were not enough votes for the amended measure, the argument went, the Senate-passed legislation would come to the floor for an up-or-down vote. That's exactly what happened.

Though Boehner voted for the bill, he didn't speak during the debate. He did, however, walk up to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and dean of the House John Dingell of Michigan to shake their hands. Boehner then sat in the front row of the chamber and chatted with Hoyer for a couple of minutes. Now, he's already turning his attention to spending cuts, the sticking point for many House conservatives, and setting the stage for another fiscal showdown in the 113th Congress.

"The American people re-elected a Republican majority in the House, and we will use it in 2013 to hold the president accountable for the 'balanced' approach he promised, meaning significant spending cuts and reforms to the entitlement programs that are driving our country deeper and deeper into debt," Boehner said in a statement. The earlier uncertainty about the fate of the bill in the House meant that the country could still have been dangling over the so-called fiscal cliff when the financial markets open on Wednesday morning. Now, most Americans will not see large tax hikes in their paychecks and deep, across-the-board cuts in spending will be postponed for two months.

Retiring Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier of California called the bill a bridge to a longer-term solution and said it would bring the country back from the depths of the fiscal cliff.

"The bill before us is not the grand bargain that I and most of my colleagues would like to have achieved," Dreier said. But it was enough.

Billy House contributed.

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Michael Catalini is an online editor at National Journal.

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