“Both sides wanted to reach an agreement, to avoid looking bad for going over the cliff,” said Dr. Robert Sanders, a University of West Georgia political science professor. “It was a watered-down agreement and the next big fight will be over the debt ceiling.”
The GOP-controlled House passed the “fiscal cliff” bill by a 257-167 vote in the late hours Tuesday night. The bill had been approved 89-8 by the U.S. Senate on Monday. The bill was sent to President Barack Obama Wednesday morning for his signature.
The bill prevents middle class tax increases and spending cuts from taking place, which had been due to happen on New Year’s Day after the Bush era tax cuts expired. The legislation raises tax rates on individuals making more than $400,000 and couples earning more than $450,000. It also extends unemployment insurance for a year for 2.2 million jobless Americans, postpones “sequestration” of defense spending cuts for two months, stops a 27 percent Medicare payment cut and continues college tuition tax credits.
Both Georgia’s Republican U.S. senators, Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss, voted for the measure, but all the Georgia House Republicans voted against it. House Democrat John Barrow of Augusta voted “no,” but Democrats Sanford Bishop of Albany, David Scott of Atlanta and Hank Johnson of DeKalb County all voted for it. Rep. John Lewis, Atlanta, did not vote because he had returned home after his wife died Monday.
The 257-167 House vote included 172 Democrats and 85 Republicans in favor, while 16 Democrats and 151 Republicans voted against it.
A press release issued by Third District U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, whose district includes all of Carroll County, said he opposed the legislation because it raised tax rates without addressing spending.
“The American people are sick of Washington politics and temporary ‘fixes’ that don’t really fix anything,” Westmoreland said. “They want to see us take real actions with real solutions to the real problems we face – especially our mounting debt. Over the last four years since President Obama took office, our debt has risen from a little over $10 trillion to more than $16 trillion. That’s a 60 percent increase. And it’s only getting worse. Did you know that our country borrows roughly $6 billion every day? That’s $239 million every hour, or $4 million every minute.”
“Rep. (Phil) Gingrey opposed the Senate amendment because it did not address spending, entitlement or tax reform in any meaningful way,” said Jen Talaber, a spokeswoman for the District 11 Congressman’s office. “Furthermore, it continues Washington’s habit of kicking the can down the road, fails to provide certainty for job creators or protection for small businesses.”
Gingrey’s District 11 encompasses much of northwest Georgia, including Haralson County.
Scott, whose District 13 includes a large part of Douglas County, called passage of the bill “a great day for the American people,” and said it alleviates much uncertainty and anxiety that the country was facing.
“We could not let this country go over the cliff,” Scott told the Times-Georgian by phone Wednesday. “This was an agreement in which the Republicans and Democrats worked together and each side compromised. That’s important, because there’s a great hunger in America to see the parties work together. It kept the tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people and made them permanent, which gives some certainty.”
Scott also praised the two-month delay in the sequestration, which he said would have cut defense spending and especially hurt industries such as Lockheed in Cobb County.
“This allows us at least some time to put together a better framework to deal with deficits and debts, outside the automatic cuts which would have affected our defense industry,” he said. “It gives us more time to look at these cuts and come up with an alternative plan for dealing with the deficit.”
Sanders said the division in the Republican Party over the fiscal cliff bill shows that the speaker of the House no longer has the power the office once held. Speaker John Boehner proposed a compromise deal last week, but it was rejected by many of his own party members.
“Speakers, such as Sam Rayburn or Dennis Hastert, could get a caucus or committee to do what they wanted,” he said. “This showed that Boehner was not able to do that. I’m not sure if he’ll survive as speaker. He doesn’t have the strength.”
Sanders said the tea party now has a lot of ideological power in the Republican Party and the GOP doesn’t follow the old protocol where both parties worked with each other.
“We can expect a huge fight when the debt ceiling comes up for debate,” he said. “We’ll again see both sides going at it.”