WASHINGTON - Minnesota lawmakers in the U.S. House were evenly divided about the deal crafted to avoid a set of tax increases and spending cuts known as the "fiscal cliff" that economists warned could have plunged the nation into another recession.
The eight-member delegation voted largely along party lines late Tuesday on legislation that would postpone automatic budget cuts for two months and extend tax cuts passed early in the era of President George W. Bush for everyone except individuals earning more than $400,000 and couples making more than $450,000.
The bill's bipartisan 257-167 approval in the House came on legislation that passed on a 89-8 vote in the Senate during the wee hours Tuesday after millions of Americans had celebrated the beginning of a new year. Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, both Democrats, supported the bill.
Republican Reps. Michele Bachmann, Chip Cravaack and Erik Paulsen were among the 151 GOP House members who opposed the bill. Rep. John Kline joined 85 Republicans in voting for it.
Among Democrats, Rep. Collin Peterson was one of only 16 who rejected the proposal. Minnesota Democrats Keith Ellison, Betty McCollum and Tim Walz sided with 172 party colleagues to support the bill.
In addition to the provisions extending tax cuts for all but the wealthiest Americans and delaying spending cuts, the legislation maintains unemployment benefits for two million jobless workers and extends the current farm bill through the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30, avoiding a sharp increase in milk prices. It also extends wind energy production tax credits.
The legislation was the result of a deal brokered over the weekend by Vice President Joseph Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., working against a Jan. 1 deadline when the Bush tax cuts expired. Deep spending cuts were set to take effect on Jan. 2.
While the proposal seemed to move through the Senate with little drama, it hit a brick wall in the House where Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was noncommittal and Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, the No. 2 Republican in the House, spoke against it.
Cantor was backed by dozens of rank-and-file Republicans who felt the deal tilted too heavily toward President Barack Obama's demand for increased revenues.
"The lack of spending cuts in the Senate bill was a universal concern among members in today's meeting," said Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck.
Bachmann, R-Stillwater, captured the sentiments of many angry House Republicans who complained the bill lacked sufficient spending cuts to go along with increased revenues for a balanced approach to alleviating the nation's $16.4 trillion debt.
"Rather than a deficit reduction plan, the Senate has sent us a grow government plan," Bachmann said. "I cannot support a plan that has billions in tax increases with no meaningful cuts in spending."
At a time when Americans were seeking significant solutions for grappling with the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression, Bachmann said, "Washington politicians have engineered a last minute backroom deal that does not address America's jobs and debt crisis."
Democrats said while the bill was not ideal, it was a start toward erasing the fiscal uncertainty that has been hovering over the nation, affecting the stock market and job growth.
"This bill extends help for the unemployed and much needed tax credits for students, parents and alternative energy producers, which I strongly support," said Rep. Betty McCollum-D-St. Paul. "Yet, in such a compromise bill there is always the excess and unnecessary waste like millions in tax credits for NASCAR and motorsports raceways and rum producers in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands."
Franken said while he supported the bill because of tax cuts and unemployment benefit extensions, he believes it falls short of what's needed to pay down the debt and continue investing in infrastructure, education and research and development. The tax increase on the rich is expected to generate about $600 billion in revenues over 10 years.
Franken also objected to cuts in conservation and energy included in the provision extending the farm bill through Sept. 30. For example, the bill does not extend the Conservation Stewardship Program or the Farmland Protection Program.
"I knew that no bill would have 100 percent of what I wanted," Franken said, "and I will continue to fight for the priorities I believe will best serve Minnesota."
Klobuchar expressed similar sentiments.
"I voted for this compromise because the last thing we should be doing this New Year's is sticking middle class families with a tax hike," Klobuchar said. "I fought for and wanted a larger, more comprehensive plan that balanced revenues and spending cuts. I will continue to push for a broader plan to reduce our debt and give businesses and families the certainty they need."
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