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‘Cliff’ vote could haunt Republicans

Rubio, Paul opposed deal, Ryan backed it

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Tuesday's votes on the "fiscal cliff" agreement will reverberate all the way into the 2016 presidential campaign as potential Republican contenders split their votes on the tax deal.

Sens. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul voted against it, saying Washington doesn't need more taxpayer money. Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP's vice presidential nominee last year, voted for the deal, saying he came to Washington to be a statesman and make "tough decisions."

The bill passed on a 89-8 vote in the Senate with all but three Democrats and five Republicans in favor of it.

It went over to the House, where it passed 257-167 — but there the GOP was deeply divided, voting 151-85 against it, forcing it to pass through the Republican-controlled chamber on the strength of Democratic votes.

Whichever way they voted, analysts said the political fate of Republicans depends on what happens now.

"All the Republicans who voted yes for this thing have placed their careers squarely in the hand of President Obama," said Michael McKenna, a Republican strategist. "If there are not real spending cuts and there is not real entitlement reform that follows on from this, they're dead. They're finished."

GOP backers had some wins to point to in the agreement.

It amounts to a $3.6 trillion tax cut over the next decade, and makes permanent the Bush-era tax rates for 99 percent of Americans — something Republicans were unable to do over the last 12 years. It includes repeal of part of the president's health law, and permanently patches the Alternative Minimum Tax, making sure middle-class taxpayers don't get slammed with it.

Opponents, though, said it broke conservative principles by allowing rates to go up on some taxpayers, and it included a net of $330 billion in new spending — meaning the total hit to the deficit over the next 10 years in nearly $4 trillion.

For Mr. Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, the vote came down to recognizing "the realities of governing" in divided government.

"I came to Congress to make tough decisions — not to run away from them," Mr. Ryan said in a statement after the late-night House vote.

Over in the Senate, though, Mr. Paul delivered a forceful denouncement, saying the folks who would be harmed by tax increases weren't the wealthy, but middle-class workers who would lose jobs because small businesses couldn't afford to keep them.

Mr. Rubio, in a statement released after the vote, shared that view.

"Thousands of small businesses, not just the wealthy, will now be forced to decide how they'll pay this new tax and, chances are, they'll do it by firing employees, cutting back their hours and benefits, or postponing the new hire they were looking to make," the Florida Republican said. "And to make matters worse, it does nothing to bring our dangerous debt under control."

Another potential 2016 candidate, Sen. Jim DeMint, missed the vote.

The vote could begin to affect Republicans as early as the 2014 mid-term congressional elections, when 13 Republicans are up for re-election — all of whom voted for the deal.

The House Republicans in those same states, though, voted 60-9 against the deal, suggesting plenty of high-powered candidates who could deliver primary challenges.

In South Carolina, for example, Sen. Lindsey Graham voted for the deal, but all four House Republicans from the state voted against it.

The split between the House and Senate was stark, but just as striking was the split among House Republicans.

Mr. McKenna said in looking over the vote, the House Republicans who supported the deal generally had ties to party leadership, usually because they were committee or subcommittee chairmen, while the rank-and-file members opposed the deal.

He said it reminded him of the French Revolution.

"It was the aristocracy against the peasants, with Speaker Boehner playing the part of Louis XVI," Mr. McKenna said. "Anyone with a stake in the current leadership voted yes; everyone else voted no. We know how that ultimately turned out for the aristocracy in France."

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