** Eric Foner, in a New York Times op-ed: "ONE hundred and fifty years ago, on Jan. 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln presided over the annual White House New Year’s reception. Late that afternoon, he retired to his study to sign the Emancipation Proclamation..., perhaps the most misunderstood of the documents that have shaped American history." Here's the text of the Proclamation.
Andy Borowitz: "Official Washington was in celebration mode on New Year's Day after kind of averting a completely unnecessary crisis that was entirely of its own creation. 'This deal proves that if we all procrastinate long and hard enough, we can semi-solve any self-inflicted problem at the very last minute in a way that satisfies no one,' said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky)."
NEW. Jake Sherman & Carrie Brown of Politico: "An overwhelming number of House Republicans in a party meeting are calling on their leadership to amend the Senate's bill to avert the fiscal cliff and send it back to the upper chamber, according to several sources in the Tuesday afternoon meeting.GOP leadership has not made a decision on what to do with the Senate-passed tax hike bill." ...
... UPDATE: "A carefully-crafted Senate compromise to avert the fiscal cliff could be in jeopardy, as House Republicans seem nearly certain to tweak the legislation and send it back to the Senate because it doesn't contain sufficient spending cuts.... In a real sign of trouble, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor ... came out in opposition to the package."
Jennifer Steinhauer of the New York Times: "House Republicans were planning to meet at 1 p.m. to discuss the Senate legislation.... Representative Nancy Pelosi of California ... said she would also present the plan to House Democrats and Mr. Biden, who helped sell the deal to Senate Democrats on Monday night, was set to meet with members of his party in the House just after noon. With just two days to go before a new Congress convenes, the House has essentially three choices: reject the bill, pass it as written by the Senate..., or amend the bill and quickly return it across the rotunda to the Senate." ...
... NEW LEDE: "House Republicans reacted with anger Tuesday afternoon to a Senate-passed plan to head off automatic tax increases and spending cuts, putting the fate of the legislation in doubt just hours after it appeared Congress was nearing a resolution of the fiscal crisis."
Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times: "The Senate, in a pre-dawn vote two hours after the deadline passed to avert automatic tax increases, overwhelmingly approved legislation Tuesday that would allow tax rates to rise only on affluent Americans while temporarily suspending sweeping, across-the-board spending cuts.... Under the agreement, tax rates would jump to 39.6 percent from 35 percent for individual incomes over $400,000 and couples over $450,000, while tax deductions and credits would start phasing out on incomes as low as $250,000, a clear victory for President Obama, who ran for re-election vowing to impose taxes on the wealthy. Just after the vote, Mr. Obama called for quick House passage of the legislation."
The full text of the Senate bill is here. It's 157 pages.
The Times has a table of what's in the bill. The one I don't understand is "Reinstates provisions that phase out personal exemptions and deductions for incomes over $200,000 for singles and $250,000 for couples." ...
... Update: I did some digging: In an October post, Dylan Matthews of the Washington Post wrote, "The current tax code includes another way to limit tax deductions for high earners: the Pease limit. Named after its author, former Democratic congressman Donald J. (Don) Pease (Ohio), the limit establishes a cutoff ($177,550 in 2013) and then reduces deductions by 3 percent of the amount by which a household's income exceeds that cutoff, up to a maximum reduction of 80 percent." So that cutoff number of $177,550 has been increased to $300K for couples. As Ezra Klein explained in a November post, "This would raise the effective tax rate on higher-income households by about 1.2 percentage points and generate about $9 billion annually...." In addition, Klein wrote, "The Bush tax cuts also eliminated the personal exemption phase-out (PEP) If that's restored, then single individual filers with incomes above $170,000 and married joint filers above $265,000 would see some or most of their personal exemption deductions eliminated. (Their average deduction is about $3,800.) ... PEP would generate about $3 billion annually." So that $170K cutoff is now at $250K for couples. The calculations of revenue generation are for the lower cutoffs, so obviously, the new law will produce less revenue. (If Obama/McConnell had just left this alone, BTW, the lower cutoffs would have kicked in automatically, so again, this is a concession to the no-tax-is-a-good-tax crowd.) Klein has his own rundown -- which is a bit more detailed than the Times' table -- of what's in the bill here.
Andrew Taylor of the AP: "Legislation to prevent the government from going over the so-called fiscal cliff will also block a $900 automatic pay hike for members of Congress.... Under a 1989 law, lawmakers are supposed to receive automatic cost-of-living pay hikes, but as Congress' approval ratings have fallen, lawmakers have routinely voted to reject the raise.... They had already voted in September to block the pay raise through March 27, but President Barack Obama recently issued an executive order to implement it, along with a pay increase for federal workers."
Suzy Khimm of the Washington Post reveals some winners & losers. Here are a couple of Winners: (1) Working Poor: 5-year extensions of a five-year extension of the Earned Income Tax Credit & the Child Tax Credit and a more generous college tuition tax credit. (2) Coupon Clippers: "Setting the dividend tax rate at 20 percent, however, is a significant concession to Republicans: Obama, in his most recent budget, proposed taxing dividends like ordinary income, with a top rate of 39.6 percent, as it's scheduled to revert to after Dec. 31." Obviously, Obama noticed who buttered his campaign bread.
Another Big Winner -- Joe Biden. Peter Baker of the New York Times (Dec. 31 @ 4:30 pm): "The late entry of Mr. Biden to the tax-and-spending talks that have consumed the capital over the last two months recalls his role in the debt crisis of 2011 and once again seems to have been critical toward cutting through the deadlock. Mr. Biden was handed the ball not by President Obama but by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.... As soon as the talks boiled down to Mr. Biden and Mr. McConnell, it became a relatively short path to a tentative agreement on taxes." ...
... David Fahrenthold & Ed O'Keefe of the Washington Post: "The New Year's Eve agreement between Biden and McConnell provided a glimpse at the ways that personality quirks and one-to-one relationships can still change the course of Washington politics.'
Milk Cliff Flattened. Mary Clare Jalonick of the AP: "A potential doubling of milk prices will be averted as part of the compromise that White House and congressional bargainers reached on wide-ranging legislation to avert the 'fiscal cliff,' a leading senator said late Monday. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., told reporters that negotiators had agreed to extend portions of the expired 2008 farm bill through September. She said that includes language keeping milk prices from rising, but excludes other provisions like energy and disaster aid for farmers."
Welcome to "the Fiscal Mountains." Rosalind Helderman of the Washington Post: "Assuming the deal is approved, it will nevertheless give way to a nearly continuous series of fights that will consume the first part of the year, even as President Obama might hope to shift Congress's attention to immigration reform and gun control. 'It's become less like a fiscal cliffhanger and more like a journey over the fiscal mountains,' said Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.)."
Robert Reich, writing in the American Prospect, concurs: "Republicans haven't conceded anything on the debt ceiling, so over the next two months -- as the Treasury runs out of tricks to avoid a default -- Republicans are likely to do exactly what they did before, which is to hold their votes on raising the debt ceiling hostage to major cuts in programs for the poor and in Medicare and Social Security." He calls it "a lousy deal," from progressives' standpoint.
Brian Beutler of TPM: "To sell Senate Democrats on a controversial plan the White House negotiated with Senate Republicans to avoid the fiscal cliff, Vice President Joe Biden had to repeatedly reassure frustrated members of his own party Monday night that President Obama and Democratic leaders will not negotiate with the GOP to raise the debt ceiling in February or March."
Jonathan Weisman: "Furious last-minute negotiations between the White House and the Senate Republican leadership on Monday secured a tentative agreement to allow tax rates to rise on affluent Americans, but the measure was not going to pass in time for Congress to meet its Dec. 31 deadline for averting automatic tax increases and spending cuts deemed a threat to the economy."
** Paul Kane of the Washington Post: "President Obama and Senate Republicans reached a sweeping deal late Monday that would let income taxes rise significantly for the first time in more than 20 years, fulfilling Obama's promise to raise taxes on the rich and averting the worst effects of the 'fiscal cliff.'"
Michael O'Brien of NBC News: "The United States was set to go over the so-called fiscal cliff at midnight after the House of Representatives adjourned until noon on New Year's Day."
Our "Read My Lips" President
CW: It's poignantly appropriate that former one-term President George H. W. Bush should be in the news on the week that President Obama reneged on his own read-my-lips campaign promise: not to lower taxes on families who earned more than $250K/year. The difference: Bush gave in on his no-new-taxes pledge to cut a responsible deal; Obama has little excuse for breaking a promise that has no upside. ...
... Jared Bernstien, who used to be Joe Biden's economics guru so surely remains connected, runs down the elements of the "probably deal" and concludes, "The thing that worried me most in the endgame is that the [White House] would be so intent on a deal that they'd lock in too few revenues with no path back to the revenue well, and that they'd leave the debt ceiling hanging out there. Remember, the ultimate goal of Republicans here is still to 'starve the beast.' ... Those fears will be realized unless the President really and truly refuses to negotiate on the debt ceiling and is willing to blow past those who would stage a strategic default. If he is not, and if this cliff deal passes, then I fear the WH may have squandered its hard won leverage." CW: in short, Obama blew it again. Plus, at least he's not Mitt Romney. ...
... Noam Scheiber of The New Republic: "I think the president made a huge mistake by negotiating over what he'd previously said was non-negotiable (namely, the expiration of the Bush tax cuts on income over $250,000). Then the White House compounded that mistake by sending Biden to 'close' the deal when Harry Reid appeared to give up on it." ...
... Paul Krugman: "Anyone looking at these negotiations, especially given Obama's previous behavior, can't help but reach one main conclusion: whenever the president says that there's an issue on which he absolutely, positively won't give ground, you can count on him, you know, giving way -- and soon, too. The idea that you should only make promises and threats you intend to make good on doesn't seem to be one that this particular president can grasp. And that means that Republicans will go right from this negotiation into the debt ceiling in the firm belief that Obama can be rolled." ...
... CW: Ryan Grim of the HuffPost, speaking on MSNBC Monday evening, made a counter-point: many Congressional Democrats are happy with the higher cut-off rate on the income tax hike. After all, their personal friends are apt to be in the $250-$450K tax bracket. If you recall, some months back, Minority Leader Pelosi was pushing $1MM-&-up taxable income for the higher rate. She quieted down on that while the President was running his campaign for raising the rate on those earning $250K & up, but I'd guess that Pelosi, among others, is right happy with raising the cut-off income figure. In short, the President's cave is a concession to the whole Congress, not just to Republicans. ...
... David Atkins of Hullabaloo adds a few other "buts', including this: "Republicans hold 234 House seats. Of those, only 15 were won by the President. There is no rational cause to believe that Republicans from districts won by the ultimate plutocrat and enemy of the '47%' Mitt Romney would be in any way intimidated by pressure from the Kenyan Socialist Anti-Christ to raise taxes on job creators or deliver more big government welfare checks to long-term unemployed parasite moochers. There is no reason to think that they wouldn't simply go on Fox News and talk radio to blame the President for all the tax increases while claiming to stand strong against a descent into a Greek deficit crisis caused by cash payments to unions and inner-city welfare recipients." CW: read the whole post. I find Atkins' POV pretty convincing. Evidently Obama does, too.
Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times: "Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, on Monday reached agreement on a tentative deal to stave off large tax increases starting on Tuesday, but remained stuck on whether and how to stop $110 billion in across-the-board spending cuts in 2013, an official familiar with the negotiations said."
Louis Seidman, a Constitutional scholar, in a New York Times op-ed: "... we ought to try extricating ourselves from constitutional bondage so that we can give real freedom a chance.... The deep-seated fear that disobedience [of the Constitution] would unravel our social fabric is mere superstition. As we have seen, the country has successfully survived numerous examples of constitutional infidelity. And as we see now, the failure of the Congress and the White House to agree has already destabilized the country." CW: I do like it when the smart guys catch up with my way of thinking.
Chiep Justice Roberts Thinks He Is an Economist. Adam Liptak of the New York Times: "Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. used his year-end report on the federal judiciary to give Congressional budget negotiators a little nudge."
Robert Pear of the New York Times: "In a long-awaited interpretation of the new health care law, the Obama administration said Monday that employers must offer health insurance to employees and their children, but will not be subject to any penalties if family coverage is unaffordable to workers."
E. J. Graff of the American Prospect looks back in anger at 2012 -- the year of the War on Women. ...
... The War Continues to the Last Day of the Year. Chris Tomlinson of the AP: "Texas can cut off funding to Planned Parenthood's family planning programs for poor women, a state judge ruled Monday. Judge Gary Harger said that Texas may exclude otherwise qualified doctors and clinics from receiving state funding if they advocate for abortion rights.... Another hearing is scheduled with a different judge for Jan. 11, where Planned Parenthood will again ask for an injunction to receive state funding."
AND Scott Lemieux of the American Prospect reviews the year in Supreme Court rulings. Justice Scalia is nastier & crazier than ever and "For progressives, the bottom line of the most recent year of the Supreme Court is that 'it could have been a lot worse.' With the Supreme Court poised to rule almost all affirmative action unconstitutional and cut out the heart of the Voting Rights Act, I'm not sure we'll be saying that this time next year."
New York Times: "Beate Sirota Gordon, the daughter of Russian Jewish parents who at 22 almost single-handedly wrote women's rights into the Constitution of modern Japan, and then kept silent about it for decades, only to become a feminist heroine there in recent years, died on Sunday at her home in Manhattan. She was 89."
A Bloody New Year. NBC News: "Seven people were shot, one of them fatally, during a New Year's party early Tuesday in Columbus, Ga., police said -- just one of many fatal shootings to be reported across the country as 2013 got off to a bloody start."
Reuters: "The State Department made a 'grievous mistake' in keeping the U.S. mission in Benghazi open despite inadequate security and increasingly alarming threat assessments in the weeks before a deadly attack by militants, a Senate committee said on Monday. A report from the Senate Homeland Security Committee on the September 11 attacks ... faulted intelligence agencies for not focusing tightly enough on Libyan extremists."
Baltimore Sun: as of today, same-sex couples can legally marry in Maryland. Meanwhile, "The ultra-conservative Westboro Baptist Church, known for picketing high-profile funerals with signs saying 'God hate' gay people, has received permits to rally in front of courthouses in Towson and Annapolis on Wednesday, police said.... Parishioners of St. Anne's, the 300-year-old Episcopal church across from the Annapolis courthouse, were planning a counter-protest the same day to 'bear witness to the good news of God's unconditional love.'"
Denver Post: "Billed as Denver's first legal private cannabis club, Club 64, met for the first time at 4:20 p.m. Monday at a Larimer Street retail store. Until further notice -- from somewhere -- enterprising cannabis enthusiasts assume it's OK to hang out to consume weed in social, yet sort of private, recreational settings."
AP: "Doctors treating Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for a blood clot in her head said blood thinners are being used to dissolve the clot and they are confident she will make a full recovery."
Reuters: "The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to split a $60.4 billion Superstorm Sandy disaster aid bill into two parts, staging votes on $27 billion to fund immediate recovery needs and $33 billion for long-term and other projects...."
Reuters: "North Korean leader Kim Jong-un called for an end to confrontation between the two Koreas, technically still at war in the absence of a peace treaty to end their 1950-53 conflict, in a surprise New Year speech broadcast on state media."
AP: "Gunmen killed five female teachers and two other people on Tuesday in an ambush on a van carrying workers home from their jobs at a community center in northwest Pakistan, officials said.... Two health workers, one man and one woman, were also killed and the driver was wounded. The attack was a reminder of the risks faced by educators and aid workers, especially women, in an area where Islamic militants often target women and girls trying to get an education."
Reuters: "About 60 people were crushed to death in Ivory Coast's main city of Abidjan overnight [in a stampede] after a New Year's Eve fireworks display, an emergency official and state radio said on Tuesday."