Fiscal Cliff Vote Splits Arizona Congressmen

Republicans revolt against bipartisan deal, citing lack of spending cuts

Paul Gosar

Paul Gosar Photo by Andy Towle. |

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Arizona’s Republican contingent in Congress broke ranks with party leadership to vote against the last-minute screech to a halt on the edge of the fiscal cliff.

The financial markets staged a 300-point rally in reaction to the nick-of-time deal to raise the top income tax rate on couples making more than $450,000 annually while deferring most budget cuts.

However, the state’s congressional delegation split along party lines, with all six Republicans in opposition, including Rep. Paul Gosar, who represents Rim Country.

Gosar issued a statement on his vote against the contentious compromise that allowed a small increase in marginal tax rates for the top 1 percent of wage owners, but deferred a decision on a host of controversial spending cuts.

The deal also raised the capital gains tax from 15 percent to 20 percent for the top earners, but made permanent existing cuts in the income tax rates for 99 percent of Americans.

The deal averted a significant tax increase for most Americans, although almost everyone will see a 2 percent increase in payroll deductions with the elimination of a temporary cut in Social Security payroll taxes.

The deal also raised the estate tax from 35 percent to 40 percent for estates larger than $5 million and essentially indexed the alternative minimum tax rate to inflation, preventing a tax increase on millions of Americans.

Finally, Congress agreed to put off for two months a vote on $1.2 trillion in scheduled, automatic spending cuts in military and domestic programs.

Many economists had predicted that the automatic tax increases and spending decreases would have shoved the struggling economy back into a recession. However, the final deal simply put off most of the major controversies and will likely have little impact on the federal deficit.

Much of the new revenue will go to averting a big cut in payments to doctors by Medicare and extending long-term unemployment benefits.

The congressmen elected in November had not yet taken their seats, so the lame-duck representatives cast their votes earlier this week on the fiscal cliff. Gosar voted against the plan as representative of the old Congressional District 1, which will in the future be represented by returning Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick, a Democrat. Gosar, however, won easy election in the redrawn Congressional District 4, which includes Northern Gila County, Prescott and most of western Arizona. As a result, in the next Congress he’ll represent Rim Country and Kirkpatrick will represent Southern Gila County.

Other Arizona Republicans voting against the Senate-approved compromise were Representatives Trent Franks, Ben Quayle and David Schweikert.

The Arizona Democrats, on the other hand, solidly supported the compromise, including Ron Barber, Raul Grijalva and Ed Pastor. The Arizona delegation will actually shift to a majority Democrats in the new Congress.

Gosar issued a statement explaining his vote against the budget deal, which even split the House leadership ranks — with Speaker John Boehner in favor and Majority Leader Eric Cantor and 2012 vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan in opposition.

Gosar said, “Tonight I kept my promise to the people of Arizona to make the right choice even when it’s not the popular choice. The bill passed tonight raised taxes $41 for every $1 cut; this is not how we get our nation back on track. Those of us who voted for the Budget Control Act which allowed the debt ceiling to rise in exchange for meaningful cuts learned tonight, as presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush once learned, that promises for future cuts rarely if ever come. I remain committed to solving our nation’s problems now, not a month from now, not a year from now, but now. This ‘deal’ does not do that and therefore I could not vote for it.”

The Flagstaff dentist who moved to Prescott to run in the redrawn Congressional District 4 and avoid a rematch with Kirkpatrick, continued, “As a health care provider, I understand the significance of a patient acknowledging that they have a disease. It is only with this recognition that they can fully participate in their own treatment and overcome it. Our nation has developed an illness — out of control spending, borrowing and taxing. Simple economics and common sense give us the cure. However, before we can start treatment for our addiction we as a nation have to recognize that we are sick and be willing to stop. Tonight’s vote is a painful reminder that many still aren’t willing to see the constant decline in our nation’s fiscal health and well-being.”

The deal passed with bipartisan support — including 172 Democrats and 85 Republicans. The vote against the measure totaled 151 Republicans and 16 Democrats.

In the Senate, the measure passed on an 89-8 vote.

Despite the positive reaction on Wall Street, the long-haggled deal left most of the major issues unsettled and set the stage for the next showdown in several months — a vote on raising the debt ceiling beyond $16.4 trillion.

The deal actually made the mounting deficit problem worse according to the Congressional Budget Office. Making the tax cuts permanent for most Americans and allocating much of the new revenue to unemployment and Medicare will actually add $4.9 trillion to the deficit in the next decade, the non-partisan budget analysis office concluded.

The deal ended up having far less impact on the deficit than a $4 trillion to $6 trillion “Grand Bargain” President Barack Obama had offered last year in negotiations with Speaker Boehner on a vote to raise the debt ceiling. Boehner rejected that deal because it relied on about $1 in tax increases for each $2 in spending cuts. At that time, the two sides agreed to increase the debt ceiling, but to appoint a bipartisan committee to work out a comprehensive budget package. The committee made no progress, which set the stage for the “fiscal cliff” consisting of spending cuts and expiration of the Bush era reductions in tax brackets.

The former co-chairmen of President Obama’s earlier debt commission, former senators Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, lamented the “lost opportunity” in the vote, which perhaps averted an immediate recession, but did little to solve the long-term deficit problem.

The Simpson-Bowles commission had recommended a comprehensive set of spending cuts and tax increases, including attempts to contain the spiraling cost of Medicare and mend the finances of Social Security. The proposal would have slashed the deficit by a projected $4 trillion.

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