Senate passes fiscal cliff deal

Bill would prevent middle class taxes from rising.

Two hours after the midnight deadline, the US Senate voted 89-8 to pass legislation that would block the worst effects of the so-called "fiscal cliff". The bill would prevent middle-class taxes from rising, and raise rates on incomes over $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples. The vote was the result of a bipartisan deal reached on Monday night to block some (but not all) of the austerity measures due to kick in today.

The implementation of the deal now depends on a vote in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, due to take place today or tomorrow. Barack Obama has called for it to follow the Senate example "without delay" and vote in favour of the deal.

But since the midnight deadline was missed, the question remains - did the US go over the cliff after all, and does it make a difference?

The Guardian thinks so:

Technically the US has just gone over the cliff but if the House approves the agreement the economic damage could be fleeting and relatively minor. The goal will be to have full Congressional approval before Wall Street reopens on Wednesday.

Barack Obama. Photograph: Getty Images

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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The trouble with a second Brexit referendum

A new vote risks coming too soon for Remainers. But there is an alternative. 

In any given week, a senior political figure will call for a second Brexit referendum (the most recent being David Miliband). It's not hard to see why. EU withdrawal risks proving an act of political and economic self-harm and Leave's victory was narrow (52-48). Had Remain won by a similar margin, the Brexiteers would have immediately demanded a re-run. 

But the obstacles to another vote are significant. Though only 52 per cent backed Brexit, a far larger number (c. 65 per cent) believe the result should be respected. No major party currently supports a second referendum and time is short.

Even if Remainers succeed in securing a vote, it risks being lost. As Theresa May learned to her cost, electorates have a habit of punishing those who force them to polls. "It would simply be too risky," a senior Labour MP told me, citing one definition of insanity: doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Were a second referendum lost, any hope of blocking Brexit, or even softening it, would be ended. 

The vote, as some Remainers note, would also come at the wrong moment. By 2018/19, the UK will, at best, have finalised its divorce terms. A new trade agreement with the EU will take far longer to conclude. Thus, the Brexiteers would be free to paint a false picture of the UK's future relationship. "It would be another half-baked, ill-informed campaign," a Labour MP told me. 

For this reason, as I write in my column this week, an increasing number of Remainers are attracted to an alternative strategy. After a lengthy transition, they argue, voters should be offered a choice between a new EU trade deal and re-entry under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty. By the mid-2020s, Remainers calculate, the risks of Brexit will be clearer and the original referendum will be a distant memory. The proviso, they add, is that the EU would have to allow the UK re-entry on its existing membership terms (rather than ending its opt-outs from the euro and the border-free Schengen Area). 

Rather than publicly proposing this plan, MPs are wisely keeping their counsel. As they know, those who hope to overturn the Brexit result must first be seen to respect it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.