GOP Fiscal Vote Split May Set Tone for 2013 Cliff

When the dust settled after the House and Senate voted on the fiscal cliff bill, Democrats supplied the overwhelming majority of the votes. But what may yet prove to be the bigger issue was how the issue split Republicans in both chambers. It may well set the stage for how Congress and the GOP will function in the coming year.

In the final 36 hours there seemed little chance to salvage a deal. Growing frustrated when Senate Democrats stopped negotiating, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called on his long-time friend, Vice President Joe Biden, to sit down and see if they could hammer out a couple of final points to win passage in the upper chamber.

Both men cut their political teeth on back-room deals so the announcement of a compromise surprised few within earshot of Capitol Hill.

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In the end, 89 senators voted for the plan (49 Democrats and independents who caucus with them, along with 40 Republicans) and only eight senators voted against the fiscal cliff deal.

They include Democrats Michael Bennet of Colorado, Tom Carper of Delaware and Tom Harkin of Iowa. Republicans who said "nay" were Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida and Richard Shelby of Alabama.

Both Rubio's and Paul's names have been tossed about as potential presidential candidates in 2016 and their willingness to stand up to the White House will earn them brownie points with fiscal conservatives.

But it was the House that captivated everyone's attention.

All eyes were on House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who as the leader of a large number of Tea Party type conservatives determined not to follow President Obama down the trail toward higher taxes, had to decide in short order if he was going to risk being blamed for raising taxes on all taxpayers.

And because of the increase in the Social Security payroll tax, almost all Americans will pay more to Uncle Sam this year, increasing their overall tax burden.

But from a purely political perspective, the House Speaker would never put forth a bill unless the majority of this caucus favored it. There was nothing typical about this vote.

The Senate had passed a bill that the president committed to sign and now it was up to the House to either go along or risk taking the blame for a possible recession or a big drop in the stock market. Sensing another battle would soon be fought over the debt ceiling, Boehner elected to move the bill to the floor even though he knew the majority of Republicans would not be with him.

After the final vote was taken in the House, 257 "aye" votes were recorded. Only 218 were needed to pass the bill. Of that number, 172 votes came from Democrats.

Boehner, along with Budget Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan and 83 other Republicans joined those Democrats in passing the controversial bill.

However, 16 Democrats and 151 Republicans, including Boehner's top lieutenants, Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Majority Whip Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), voted against the bill.

Boehner and Cantor downplayed their differences on the bill, publicly saying that each member of the GOP caucus was told they could vote their conscience or what they thought was the will of their district.

What it came down to was politics. The 85 Republicans who voted for the bill came from districts where a primary challenge – or a challenge from a member of their own political party – was unlikely. This group was more concerned about appearing to be an obstructionist and attracting opposition from Democrats who would have the backing of a popular president. This included Boehner.

Rep. Mike Kelly fell into this group. "The people I caucus with said, 'This is what I have to do for the people I represent,'" Kelly told Politico. "At the end of the day, you do what you think is best."

The 151 Republicans who voted against the bill were more likely to be concerned about drawing opposition from someone in their own party such as a Tea Party backed candidate who could claim they were not doing enough to maintain fiscal discipline. Of note, former GOP presidential candidate and Texas Congressman Ron Paul did not vote on the issue.

"I'm a no vote," said Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.) in a text message to The Christian Post on Tuesday. "My district did not send me up here to raise taxes when we have a spending problem."

On Thursday, some of those who voted on New Year's Day will return to the private sector and a new class of Senate and House freshmen will be sworn in.

The Senate will welcome 12 new faces including former Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and newly elected Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). In the House, 82 new members, including 47 Democrats and 35 Republicans will take the oath of office.

What remains to be seen is how the divide within the GOP will impact the caucus, but many believe it will in some ways. Although there were early rumblings of replacing Boehner, it is expected he will unanimously be re-elected as Speaker of the 113th Congress shortly after noon eastern time on Thursday.

Former Rep. Tom Cole, a Republican who represented Oklahoma thinks a possible gap in the House will fall between those looking to compromise and strike deals with the White House and those who are entrenched in their desire to keep taxes low and reduce the national debt.

"I don't think there is a divide in terms of philosophy. The party (GOP) is uniformly conservative, but the gap is between pragmatists and ideologues. Pragmatists say, 'What is the best deal we can get?'" Cole told Politico.

Others such as former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) feel otherwise. "I think what's going to happen is that if they don't come together and work as a team, they are going to be sliced and diced."

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