Area Republicans in House back deal

U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R., Pa.)
U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R., Pa.) (RICH SCHULTZ / STAFF)

While some in their party disagreed, locals supported the plan to avoid the fiscal cliff.

Posted: January 03, 2013

WASHINGTON - All six House Republicans from the Philadelphia area backed a compromise plan to avert the fiscal cliff late Tuesday night, going against the tide in their own caucus, where most of their colleagues voted against the bill.

Every Democrat from the area also voted in favor of the plan to raise taxes on the wealthy, lock in lower tax rates for most Americans, and sidestep many of the biggest tax increases and budget cuts of the fiscal cliff. That combination threatened to disrupt the economy's recovery and possibly bring on a recession.

The local GOP votes stood out in particular because most House Republicans largely opposed the compromise plan, seeking added spending cuts. With 151 of them voting no, 85 Republicans, including those from the Philadelphia suburbs, joined with 172 Democrats to put the bill over the top in the House and avoid the impacts of the cliff, which would have started to hit this week without action in Congress.

Local Republicans, while raising concerns about the final compromise, said the overall plan was far better than going over the cliff, which would have brought $500 billion in tax hikes and budget cuts, including tax increases on all levels of income, as well as an end to emergency unemployment benefits and cuts in payments to doctors, among other provisions.

Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, a Bucks County Republican who supported the deal to avert the cliff, pointed out that the plan would undo the vast majority of scheduled tax hikes, leaving rates flat for most taxpayers, and make those rates permanent, as Republicans have long sought.

Some Republicans wanted to amend the bill and seek more spending cuts, but with opposition from the Senate, that would have risked pulling apart a deal that had appeared sealed on New Year's Eve and would bring on widespread tax increases.

"I believe that any other approach would jeopardize those rates," Fitzpatrick said in an interview before the final vote.

"If you really believe in maintaining the lowest possible tax rates for the greatest number of people, you need to support a vote now."

While some hard-right fiscal conservatives in the House wanted to force spending cuts into the bill, the risk of the cliff and its widespread tax hikes was too dire to risk further political combat, said Rep. Pat Meehan (R., Pa.). The push for new cuts fell short.

"In light of what is before us, I also want to see a resolution prior to the end of the fiscal cliff and I'm concerned about the implications if it drags on," Meehan said hours before the final vote.

While supporting the plan would help avoid income tax hikes on most, it also meant backing tax increases on some, which goes against a Republican core belief.

Nevertheless, Rep. Chris Smith (R., N.J.) backed the plan, noting that it makes many of the Bush-era tax cuts permanent, as Republicans have long desired, even if taxes rise on some.

House Republicans debated the proposal in two New Year's Day meetings, hours after the deal was approved, 89-8, in the Senate, with backing from most Democrats and Republicans.

Among those who supported the plan in the Senate was Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey, a Republican who is one of Washington's leading voices for lower taxes and smaller government. With some tax hikes included in the bill, his vote was somewhat surprising, but he argued that the deal dodged income-tax increases for most people, which he said would aid job creation and economic growth.

"I voted to protect 99 percent of taxpayers from a large tax increase," Toomey said in a news release issued about 2 a.m. Tuesday, after the Senate vote.

The Senate bill limited income-tax increases to couples making at least $450,000 and single earners making $400,000 - 0.7 percent of filers, according to the Tax Policy Center. However, payroll taxes would rise on anyone who gets a paycheck.

"My preference would have been to avoid higher taxes for all Americans," he said, "but I believe this legislation is the best we could do for taxpayers and job seekers in Pennsylvania."

Toomey once led the antitax Club for Growth, which on Tuesday urged House lawmakers to oppose the compromise. His vote carries weight with Republican congressmen from Pennsylvania.

Democratic Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Robert Menendez of New Jersey also backed the Senate plan, helping send it on to the House as lawmakers tried to avoid anyone feeling fiscal-cliff pain. Though the provisions technically took effect Tuesday, quick action could block any meaningful effects.

Under doctors' orders, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.) has been home with the flu, according to his staff, and was one of three senators who did not vote on the plan.

House Democrats widely supported the compromise, which was backed by President Obama and fulfilled his pledge to increase taxes on the wealthy. Every Democrat from the Philadelphia area voted for the plan.


Contact Jonathan Tamari

at jtamari@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @JonathanTamari.

Read his blog 'Capitol Inq' at www.philly.com/CapitolInq.

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