Less than 24 hours after the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved it, the U.S. House passed legislation late Tuesday night to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff,” but seven Tennessee Republicans and one Democrat opposed it.
The bill, which now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature, averts income tax increases for most Americans and temporarily delays large across-the-board spending cuts to defense and domestic programs.
However, the Associated Press reported most Americans will still end up paying more federal taxes in 2013 because the legislation did not renew a temporary 2 percent cut in the payroll tax. That reduction was worth about $1,000 to a worker making $50,000 a year.
U.S. senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, both Tennessee Republicans, voted for the bill in the Senate, where it passed 89-8 early Tuesday morning. Alexander and Corker said the legislation, reached after weeks of negotiations between the White House and Congress, “rescues” 99 percent of Americans from a tax rate increase.
But all seven Tennessee Republicans in the U.S. House, including Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, voted against it. The vote in the House was 257-167.
“Months ago, the House passed bills that extended tax cuts for all Americans and responsibly dealt with sequestration (spending cuts),” Fleischmann said in a Tuesday night press release. “Unfortunately, the Senate waited until the final days of the year to look at any solutions. What they produced does nothing more than kick the can down the road on the most serious issue facing our nation.”
The congressman said the nation has a spending problem, not a revenue problem. The bill that the Senate sent to the House allowed taxes to increase and increased spending by $330 billion, said Fleischmann, whose district includes Oak Ridge.
“It was simply something I could not support,” he said.
The other six Tennessee Republicans voting against the legislation in the House were representatives Phil Roe, John J. Duncan Jr., Scott DesJarlais, Diane Black, Marsha Blackburn, and Stephen Fincher. Democrat Jim Cooper also voted “no,” while Democrat Steve Cohen voted “yes.”
Many House Republicans reportedly opposed the bill because it did not include significant spending cuts.
The temporary delay in spending cuts approved Tuesday could be good news to workers at federal facilities in Oak Ridge. The automatic cuts, also known as sequestration, could have resulted in 9.4 percent spending reductions in some defense activities and 8.2 percent drops in funding for certain non-defense programs. Funding for U.S. Department of Energy and National Nuclear Security Administration programs and activities could have been affected, although Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Thom Mason had said officials there prepared as well as they could for the possible cuts.
The “fiscal cliff” deal raises tax rates from from 35 percent to 39.6 percent on incomes over $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples. President Barack Obama had earlier called for raising rates at a lower income level, possibly $250,000.
The legislation also extends expiring unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless, prevents a cut in fees for doctors who treat Medicare patients, and cancels a $900 pay increase due to lawmakers in March, the AP reported.
In a press release Tuesday night, Corker said “it’s time to move on to the spending reductions that will be part of the debt ceiling package.” During that debate, expected within a month or two, lawmakers and the president are expected to repeat a debate over whether to raise the nation’s borrowing limit and, if so, by how much.
“I am disappointed we could not address our country’s fiscal issues all at once, but unfortunately, the president made it clear that he was only willing to do this in two steps and leveraged the country and the economy to force revenues to be dealt with first,” Corker said. “Now that we’ve addressed the revenue part of the equation, it’s time to move on to the spending reductions that will be part of the debt ceiling package. Passing fundamental entitlement reform is the most important action we can take in ensuring our country’s solvency, and now we must have the courage to finish the job and make the tough choices necessary to get these problems behind us once and for all.”
Earlier this month, Corker offered legislation to raise the debt ceiling by roughly $1 trillion in exchange for roughly $1 trillion in reforms to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.