Congress won’t make midnight ‘fiscal cliff’ deadline

Olivier Knox

America is going over the “fiscal cliff” – for a few minutes, or hours, at the very least. Don't panic. There's no need to move the family into the Doomsday bunker in the backyard. Yet.

While President Barack Obama and Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have said they are close to a broad agreement that would prevent across-the-board income-tax hikes, lawmakers are unlikely to approve actual legislation before a midnight deadline.

That’s not expected to pose any major logistical problem in the next few days, provided that Democrats and Republicans actually have a deal. Unlike a college student who writes an end-of-semester paper overnight before a morning deadline, then drops the assignment off hours after it was due, Congress can write its own rules to minimize the damage – and Americans whose taxes are staying the same won’t see a change in their bottom line.

“It’s basically a matter of saying it’s effective January 1,” one senior Republican aide shrugged.

The deal – if a final deal is reached – will originate in the Democratic-led Senate (but on a House bill, since legislation affecting revenues technically has to start in the lower chamber). Republican House Speaker John Boehner has said that the House will only act after the Senate does. Obama and McConnell have both said that they expected work to continue on avoiding the first installment in $1.2 trillion in cuts to domestic and defense programs, the other part of the "fiscal cliff." McConnell called earlier in the day for lawmakers to vote on the tax component now, but Democrats demurred.

As of 5 p.m. on Monday, it was not clear whether the Senate would vote before midnight.