Democratic leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives are calling on their Republican colleagues to schedule a simple yes-or-no vote on a plan from the Senate that would avert the so-called fiscal cliff from taking effect starting Wednesday.
The number two House Democrat, Steny Hoyer, acknowledged that the plan passed by the Senate early Tuesday is a compromise that will only partially satisfy each party.
"By definition, a compromise has elements in it that each party does not like," he said. "But by definition it also has things in it that each party should like. The speaker said that if the Senate passed a bill he would put it on the floor for a vote. The leader has pointed out that we expect that to happen. We think that's in the best interest of the American people."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urged members of the Republican-dominated House to move quickly to vote on the bill.
"It's long overdue for us to have this solution to go forward and remove all doubt as to how we, what comes next for our country. So we expect, the American people deserve, an up-or-down vote on what was passed in the Senate," she said.
Representative Eric Cantor, who is second-in-command among House Republicans, says he opposes the plan.
A spokesman for House Republican Leader John Boehner has issued a statement saying Republicans are concerned about the lack of spending cuts in the bill. It said Republican members will continue their discussions.
Under the plan, taxes would increase for individuals making more than $400,000 a year and couples earning more than $450,000, the first U.S. income tax increase in 20 years. The package also would extend unemployment benefits for a year and boost taxes on large inheritances.
The compromise delays mandated cuts to defense spending and domestic programs for two months, setting up a future battle between the parties. Analysts have said that without a compromise, the $500 billion in austerity measures could eventually plunge the U.S. economy into another recession.
Republican Congressman Mo Brooks from the southern state of Alabama has already made up his mind.
"If we vote on the Senate fiscal cliff bill today I will vote against it because this is not the way to do the people's business," he said. "I will not condone with my vote a process that denies the American people an opportunity to participate in their republic on issues of this magnitude."
Democratic Congressman Earl Blumenauer from the northwestern state of Oregon called the deal flawed. But his democratic colleague, Gerry Connolly from the eastern state of Virginia, said lawmakers have little choice.
"It's not a perfect package but it's something that gets us by while we tackle the larger issues in the next Congress. I pray, God, that next Congress is more willing to compromise than this," he said.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has met with fellow Democrats to raise support for the bill. President Barack Obama has urged the House to pass the bill "without delay."
As the House of Representatives convened, House Chaplain Patrick Conroy prayed for God to "give each member the grace of courage to forge a constructive solution for the good of the nation and for all Americans."
The fiscal cliff bill is the result of two days of marathon negotiations between the White House and Senate Republicans. It was passed in an unusual vote early on New Year's Day, 89-8.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the compromise was an "imperfect agreement" that will keep tax hikes from affecting most Americans. He also thanked Vice President Joe Biden, who worked with Senate leaders to craft the deal.
"We've taken care of the revenue side of this debate," said the senator. "Now it's time to get serious about Washington's out-of-control spending. That's a debate the American people want, it's the debate we'll have next and it's a debate Republicans are ready for."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid thanked McConnell for his hard work on the compromise deal and urged House members to follow the Senate's bipartisan action.
"I hope the new year will bring a new willingness on the part of the House Republicans to join Democrats in the difficult but rewarding work of governing," he said.
President Obama and congressional Republicans have sparred for more than a year over tax rates, the extent of government spending, chronic budget deficits and the country's mounting debt.
Even as U.S. leaders wrangled over the tax and spending issues, they soon face a decision whether to increase the country's borrowing limit, which hit its current $16.4 trillion cap on Monday. Officials say the country will be able to pay its bills for another two months, but by then will need to increase the debt ceiling, an action likely to spark another extended debate over Washington's spending priorities.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.