Fiscal cliff: 'Hold your nose' and vote for compromise, Engel says
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"There are things in the bill that I wish weren't in there and there are some good things there that I'm happy with," Rep. Eliot Engel (D-Bronx) told Newsday, after attending a caucus meeting Tuesday night. "You have to hold your nose and vote for it. This bill is far better than going over the fiscal cliff."
The legislation is aimed at averting across-the-board tax increases and sweeping government spending cuts.
In the early hours of the new year, the Democratic-controlled Senate voted 89-8 to end a long-simmering stalemate and raise taxes on upper-income households, extend long-term unemployment benefits and postpone painful spending cuts.
But the deal needs approval from the Republican-led House of Representatives. GOP lawmakers had expressed concerns Tuesday that the bill didn't contain enough spending cuts, but maneuvered into a political corner, Republicans abandoned their demands, clearing the way for a final, climactic New Year's night vote.
Engel, who attended a three-hour Democratic caucus meeting Tuesday, called on House Republicans to approve the Senate bill as is, warning that if there were too many amendments tacked onto the legislation it would be effectively killed.
"It would be very irresponsible if the Republicans in the House reject or amend the bill," Engel said. "Right now I think the American people want to see us pass this bill so we don't go over the fiscal cliff."
Rep. Nita Lowey (R-Harrison) echoed those sentiments Tuesday night, calling on House Republicans to hold an up-or-down vote on the bill. She said the legislation, while not perfect, would "avoid a tax hike for millions of American families and arbitrary budget cuts that would have a severe impact on critical services and economic growth and competitiveness."
"No compromise is perfect, but failing to pass this deal only ensures higher tax bills and reduced economic growth," Lowey said in a statement from Washington, where she was still in meetings Tuesday evening. "Rather than adding poison pill language to kill the compromise, Republican leadership should hold an up-or-down vote."
Staff for Rep. Nan Hayworth (R-Bedford) didn't respond to a request for comment.
If approved by the House, the measure would prevent middle-class taxes from going up but would raise rates on higher incomes. It would also block spending cuts for two months and extend unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless.
Lawmakers hope to resolve any uncertainty over the fiscal cliff before financial markets reopen Wednesday. It could take a lot of Democratic votes to pass the measure and overcome opposition from Tea Party-backed lawmakers.
Even if the bill is approved, lawmakers will have to revisit difficult budget questions in just a few weeks, as relief from painful spending cuts expires and the government requires an increase in its borrowing cap.
"Until we do a grand, large-scale plan that takes care of this budgetary stuff and put it away for 5 to 10 years, we're going to have to come back again and again to play these games of chicken," Engel said. "It's very unfortunate."
With The Associated Press