WASHINGTON — The bill was 153 pages long. It was written only the day before, by Washington insiders working in the dark of night. It was crammed with giveaways and legislative spare parts: tax breaks for wind farms and race tracks. A change to nuclear-weapons policy. Government payments for cheese.
And most significantly, the bill would raise taxes but do relatively little to cut government spending or the massive federal deficit.
To a tea-party-influenced crop of House Republicans, the bill to resolve the "fiscal cliff" crisis was everything they had wanted to change about the way Washington worked. Too rushed. Too bloated. Too secretive. Too expensive.
"There's lots and lots of pork in this bill," said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.
On Tuesday would come their last test.
After the Senate passed the compromise bill, the GOP-controlled House had to decide whether to accept it as is, or reject it and run the risk of triggering an economic disaster.
The fiscal-cliff bargain had been worked out on the phone by Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., two 70-year-olds with a combined 68 years in office in Washington. They stepped in after President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, tried, and failed, to reach a far-reaching agreement to tackle the debt.
Instead, McConnell and Biden lowered their ambitions and cut a "small deal." It would raise marginal tax rates only for a sliver of high-earning individuals and avert a massive budget cut by pushing it back for two months.
But "small" was really not the the best description. The bill would carry a substantial cost.
Although it would raise some taxes, it also would extend the vast majority of the Bush-era tax cuts, as well as loopholes for many businesses. In all, the bill would cause deficits to rise by nearly $4 trillion over the next decade, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. But that estimated increase is based on the massive tax hikes and spending cuts scheduled to take effect without a fiscal cliff resolution.