Ryan Scott Ottney
PDT Staff Writer
WASHINGTON — Past its own New Year’s deadline, Congress sent President Barack Obama legislation to avoid a national “fiscal cliff” of middle class tax increases and spending cuts late Tuesday night. The bill (House Resolution 8) passed with a bipartisan vote of 89-9 in the Senate and 257-167 in the House, but Ohio Representatives remained divided.
The Senate approved the measure less than 24 hours before the House, while House conservatives demanded a vote to add significant spending cuts to the measure. But in the end they retreated. The measure split the upper ranks of the Republican leadership in the House.
In the House, Ohio democrats Marcia Fudge (OH-11), Marcy Kaptur (OH-9), Dennis Kucinich (OH-10), Tim Ryan (OH-17) and Betty Sutton (OH-13), and republicans John Boehner (OH-8), Bill Johnson (OH-6), Steve LaTourette (OH-14), Robert Latta (OH-5), Steve Stivers (OH-15), and Pat Tiberi (OH-12) voted in favor of the bill.
“Washington has a spending problem that threatens the prosperity of our children and grandchildren,” Johnson said. “Now that an agreement has been reached to prevent going over the fiscal cliff and permanently cut taxes on 99 percent of the American people, the table has been cleared to tackle the out-of-control federal spending that has amassed a $16 trillion national debt head-on.
“As we start a new year, it is critically important for the President and Senate to work together with the House on the big issues that are driving our debt and stifling job creation. We must strengthen and preserve Medicare, overhaul Medicaid and completely reform our tax code. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to solve our fiscal challenges now so that they may have the same access to the American Dream that our generation has been blessed with.”
Seven House republicans voted against the bill, coming from Steve Austria (OH-7), Steve Chabot (OH-1), Bob Gibbs (OH-18), Jim Jordan (OH-4), Jim Renacci (OH-16), Jean Schmidt (OH-2) and Michael Turner (OH-3).
Schmidt was not available for comment Wednesday and as of today, is no longer representing the Ohio 6th District, which includes the western-half of Scioto County. Schmidt was defeated in the spring 2012 primary election by challenger Brad Wenstrup, who later won the general election in November. Wenstrup will officially take Schmidt’s seat in the House when the 113th Congress convenes today.
In the Senate, both U.S. Senators from Ohio, Rob Portman (R) and Sherrod Brown (D), voted to support H.R. 8.
“While this deal isn’t perfect, it represents an important down payment in reducing the deficit and getting America’s fiscal house in order. It also prevents dangerous cuts to Social Security and reduces the deficit by asking millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share,” Brown said.
Only eight U.S. Senators voted against the bill — democrats Michael Bennet (D-CO), Thomas Carper (D-DE) and Tom Harkin (D-IA), and republicans Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rand Paul (R-KY).
“I supported the fiscal cliff agreement because it stops huge tax increases from being imposed on the overwhelming majority of Ohio’s families and job creators,” Portman said. “I am also pleased that the $1.2 trillion sequester put in place by the Budget Control Act will not be unwound. Although I will keep fighting to reallocate the across-the-board cuts in our defense programs, with the debt at record levels, Washington cannot let the spending cuts lapse. It is reassuring to see that we’ve also been able to stop the President’s planned salary increases for Congress on the same day the Treasury tells us the U.S. government has once again hit the nation’s debt limit.”
In addition to neutralizing middle class tax increases and spending cuts taking effect with the new year, the legislation will raise tax rates on incomes over $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples. That was higher than the thresholds of $200,000 and $250,000 that Obama campaigned for. The bill would also prevent an expiration of extended unemployment benefits for an estimated 2 million jobless, block a 27 percent cut in fees for doctors who treat Medicare patients, stop a $900 pay increase for lawmakers from taking effect in March and head off a threatened spike in milk prices. It would stop $24 billion in across-the-board spending cuts set to take effect over the next two months, although only about half of that total would be offset with savings elsewhere in the budget.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said the measure would add nearly $4 trillion over a decade to federal deficits, a calculation that assumed taxes would otherwise have risen on taxpayers at all income levels. Economists have warned that without action by Congress, the tax increases and spending cuts that technically took effect with the new year could send the economy into recession.
“Thanks to the votes of Republicans and Democrats in Congress I will sign a law that raises taxes on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans while preventing tax hikes that could have sent the economy back into recession,” Obama said.
Even with enactment of the legislation, taxes are on the rise for millions. A 2 percentage point temporary cut in the Social Security payroll tax, originally enacted two years ago to stimulate the economy, expired with the end of 2012. Neither Obama nor Republicans made a significant effort to extend it.
Ryan Scott Ottney can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 287, or email@example.com. The Associated Press contributed to this story.