“The American people have to wonder if the president really wants this issue to be resolved,’’ said McCain, “or is it in his short-term benefit for us to go over the cliff?’’
But Obama’s determination appeared to carry the day. The two-month delay in the sequester cuts would give the White House and Congress breathing room to continue negotiating a broader budget deal that could include Social Security and Medicare spending reductions sought by Republicans. Combined with a requirement to raise the debt ceiling again in February, the complex issues promise to deliver more intense, partisan battles in early 2013.
The agreement also included a permanent “patch’’ on the alternative minimum tax to make sure it did not unfairly apply to an excessive number of taxpayers, a one-year extension of long-term unemployment benefits, and a stopgap measure to prevent deep cuts in Medicare reimbursement rates for doctors.
As Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell and Biden and their staffs exchanged phone calls and worked behind the scenes Monday, Senate and House members idled in their offices, spoke before C-SPAN cameras in empty chambers, and monitored Twitter and TV news reports for the latest developments.
Rank-and-file members of Congress repeatedly expressed their displeasure with the process — “two guys sitting in a room’’ negotiating the people’s business behind closed doors, as Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota described it. (The room was metaphorical, because the negotiations were carried out over the telephone).
The last-minute nature of the negotiations also irked Thune. “This process has been grossly mismanaged to this point,’’ he said. ”This is the most predictive financial crisis that we have ever known about. We are here because we have twiddled our thumbs, month after month after month.’’
The deal could be a tough sell in the House, even with bipartisan Senate support.
“The House will honor its commitment to consider the Senate agreement if it is passed,’’ Boehner said in a statement, alluding to a promise he made to Obama and Senate majority leader Harry Reid in a White House meeting on Friday not to block the bill from coming to the floor. “Decisions about whether the House will seek to accept or promptly amend the measure will not be made until House members — and the American people — have been able to review the legislation.”
A core contingent of House Republicans has opposed any tax, including for those earning more than $1 million annually. House Democrats, likewise, were not pleased about a higher income threshold for tax hikes on the wealthy. But on the positive side for Democrats, they were able to avoid cuts to Social Security and Medicare. “There’s a lot to grumble about on both sides, that’s for sure,’’ said Representative Peter Welch, a Democrat from Vermont.
Representative Richard Neal, a Democrat from Springfield, lamented the inability of Congress to forge long-term fixes. “There’s two parts to this,” said Neal. “There’s the deal, and there’s the selling of the deal. There could be a wide chasm between the two.”
Bobby Caina Calvan of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Christopher Rowland can be reached at email@example.com.