La. delegates divided over bill to prevent cliff

The so-called “fiscal cliff” was averted late Tuesday evening when the compromise Senate plan was approved by the House despite the opposition of most of the Republican members of the Louisiana delegation.

Although Louisiana’s two senators both voted for the deal early Tuesday with 87 other senators, the Republican House members from the state’s delegation expressed a lot more concern.

Reps. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge; Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette; Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson; Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia; and John Fleming, R-Minden, all voted against the plan.

Reps. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, and Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, backed the measure, as did Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and David Vitter, R-La.

Cassidy said he voted against House Resolution 8 because the bill did not address the federal deficit and did not attempt to rein in or “preserve” Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

“We’ve done nothing for the other issues,” Cassidy said late Tuesday.

Alexander said he voted for HR8 because it makes permanent the tax cuts for more than 98 percent of Americans and includes other positives. “Not everyone can be happy with everything,” Alexander said of his willingness to compromise.

The compromise plan only increases taxes on households making more than $450,000 a year — although it is technically a tax cut for all but the wealthy because it occurred one day after falling off the cliff — but the agreement delays decisions on the debt ceiling and automatic spending cuts, called sequestration, for another two months.

The Republican House leadership debated whether to attempt to amend more budget cuts into the bill. Such attempts were never called because of a lack of support as they were considered potential deal breakers for the Senate.

“I don’t think America is in that mood right now,” Fleming said. “I think they’d rather see an imperfect bill passed than see it made a little better.”

Scalise, who will soon chair the conservative Republican Study Committee, argued earlier Tuesday afternoon though that there was “pretty broad support” in the House to amend the bill to add in more cuts.

Despite the concerns from House Republicans, Vitter and Landrieu were among the 89 senators voting for the compromise bill after 2 a.m. Tuesday.

The compromise plan would extend several tax credits and unemployment benefits, but both Republicans and Democrats are agreeing to let the payroll tax cut to expire. The agreement also would patch the Alternative Minimum Tax and increase estate taxes only for higher value properties. The bill also extends the federal farm bill to avert the so-called “milk cliff.”

“This is a much better tax outcome under Obama than I would have guessed,” Vitter said in an email response just prior to 3 a.m. Tuesday. “It preserves the Bush tax cuts for 99 percent of Americans, with good policy on the death tax, dividends and capital gains, so important to small business.

“Just as importantly, it makes it all permanent, which we could never do before,” Vitter added. “But of course we still must pass real and dramatic spending reform. For me, that’s a non-negotiable requirement of all budget or debt limit bills, due around March 1.”

In a prepared statement, Landrieu said the Senate vote proved that lawmakers can work out bipartisan compromises.

“In addition, we worked hard to extend the estate tax in a reasonable way that protects small businesses and farmers,” Landrieu stated.

“While this compromise did not do as much as we had hoped to reduce the deficit, I remain committed to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to find a balanced approach to deficit reduction that includes both spending cuts and new revenues,” she added.

Landry, whose time in Congress ends this week, said he was surprised the Senate vote received so much Republican support but that he does not begrudge Vitter for backing the plan.

“I’m not interested in giving the president a trophy to let him continue to conduct class warfare,” Landry said, adding, “The losers today is the American people.”

Fleming said that conservatives will get another chance or two for leverage in less than two months for the upcoming debates on the debt ceiling and sequestration that were temporarily punted.

“The president absolutely needs us for that,” Fleming said. “This is our opportunity to force spending cuts.”