With a clock ticking toward midnight, Congress found the votes it needed to prevent the country from going over the so-called “fiscal cliff”-but none of them came from lawmakers in East Tennessee.
The House of Representatives passed the bill as approved by the Senate late Tuesday night, securing tax rates for the majority of American workers and delaying a mix of spending cuts that could have sent the economy on a path toward another recession. The passage ended months of wrangling, but left several issues unresolved.
The vote in the House was 257-167, with 151 Republicans opting to vote against the measure. According to a Wall Street Journal report, the bill constitutes the largest tax increase in two decades-with the bulk of the hike focusing on the top 2 percent of wage earners.
Federal income tax rates on families earning more than $450,000 a year will rise to 39.6 percent, along with the tax on capital gains increasing from 15 to 20 percent. The same rates will go into effect for single wage earners who net more than $400,000 a year.
The measure also allows for a provision of the Social Security payroll tax cut to expire, resulting in more taxes paid by most American workers. According to an Associated Press report, the cut had been worth about $1,000 to a worker making $50,000 a year.
Despite preventing elements that could have led to a possible financial crisis, Rep. Chuck Fleischmann said he could not support the bill because of its increase on taxes and lack of serious spending cuts.
After the vote, Fleischmann issued a statement describing the bill as a “kick-the-can-down-the-road” measure. The congressman also pointed the finger at Senate lawmakers, arguing that the House had approved measures geared at dealing with the cliff months ago.
“What [the Senate] produced does nothing more than kick the can down the road on the most serious issue facing our nation,” Fleischmann said in the news release. “As I have long said, we have a spending problem, not a revenue problem. The bill sent back to the House not only allowed taxes to increase but increased spending by $330 billion. It was something I could not support.”
Rep. Scott DesJarlais issued his statement hours before the vote was taken, calling the measure “totally unacceptable.”
“This is a totally unacceptable proposal that will do nothing to address government’s reckless spending addiction,” DesJarlais said. “Unfortunately, it seems that, once again, politics have trumped sound policy. My constituents expect more than this, and I will not vote for it.”
Robert Jameson, spokesman for DesJarlais, added that the congressman had made it clear “from the beginning” that he would not vote for a measure that raised taxes on any Americans.
“The small amount of revenue generated would do nothing to paying down our debt while hurting small business owners,” Jameson said.
Both Fleischmann and DesJarlais also voted in 2011 against the Budget Control Act, which allowed for a raise of the debt ceiling and put many of the measures constituting the cliff into place.
Along with Fleischmann and DesJarlais, lawmakers from the Tennessee delegation heavily opposed the measure. Voting against the bill were Republican Reps. Phil Roe, John Duncan, Diane Black, Marsha Blackburn and Stephen Fincher.
Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper voted against the bill also, leaving Rep. Steve Cohen, also a Democrat, as the lone backer from Tennessee.
The bill had been sent to the House from the Senate Monday after its members approved the measure in an 89-8 vote. Both Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander voted in favor of the bill, which also does little to address funding being designated for the nation’s entitlement programs, such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
On Tuesday, Corker said he was ready to move the focus toward the nation’s spending since revenues had been voted on.
“I am disappointed we could not address our country’s fiscal issues all at once, but unfortunately, the president made it clear that he was only willing to do this in two steps and leveraged the country and the economy to force revenues to be dealt with first,” the senator and former Chattanooga mayor said in a news release. “Now that we’ve addressed the revenue part of the equation, it’s time to move on to the spending reductions that will be part of the debt ceiling package.”
Last month, Corker introduced legislation called the Dollar for Dollar Act, which would allow for a nearly $1 trillion raise in the national debt limit in exchange for nearly $1 trillion in reductions to programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Last week, Alexander said he would partner with Corker in promoting the bill.
The coming debate over the debt ceiling is not the only challenge lawmakers have to look forward to in the coming months. As part of the compromise bill, a $110 billion mix of spending cuts has been delayed two months and is set to go into effect during the debt ceiling debate.