State congressional delegation split on fiscal cliff vote
On the edge of the fiscal cliff this week, West Virginia's five-member congressional delegation split along party lines and ran in opposite directions.
All three Democrats voted for a last-minute fix to spare the country widespread tax increases and deep cuts to government budgets. Both Republicans voted against the fix.
Each side portrayed their votes as policy-driven. But top state party officials and even some of the members used the other side's votes to get in some political punches Wednesday, the day after the House passed a plan the Senate had approved on Monday.
The Democrats who voted for the fiscal cliff deal - Sen. Jay Rockefeller, Sen. Joe Manchin and Rep. Nick Rahall - argued it was the responsible thing to do.
The Republicans who voted against the deal - Rep. Shelley Moore Capito and Rep. David McKinley - said the final deal did not do enough to reign in government spending. They said the final deal was not the "balanced" combination of tax increases and budget cuts the country had been promised.
The deal was an interesting beast: it raised taxes on the wealthy but kept them from increasing on the middle class.
After repeated breakdowns and procrastinating, the country ended up going over the cliff that began on Jan. 1. But lawmakers came up with a fix before the markets opened on Wednesday, so the most negative consequences were largely negated. But to reach a deal, the Senate handed the House a last-minute compromise.
Some House Republicans were not fans.
"It didn't have a balanced approach," Capito said. "I mean, when it came out, honestly, I was stunned that there was no reigning in of spending at all in that bill to compensate for the spending that is going forward now."
But she said she cast her no vote knowing if the House failed to back the Senate plan, "That was not going to be the end game."
In other words, in Capito's view, a failed deal would have prompted the Senate to come back and engage in further negotiations that could have given the Republicans some of the spending cuts they wanted. But senators had left for the day Tuesday by the time the House was in a position to act, so if the House had voted down or changed the Senate's versions, a final deal might not have come together until after the markets opened Wednesday.
The state Democratic Party attacked Capito and McKinley's votes as an unreasonable reaction.
"It's disappointing that Representatives Capito and McKinley chose to keep playing partisan politics by voting against the compromise," party executive director Derek Scarbro said.
On the other side, Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas accused the three Democrats and particularly Manchin of "turning his back on the nation's debt crisis."
Rockefeller and Rahall were not very sparing in their assessment of House Republicans.
Rahall said Republicans who voted against the plan were afraid of being "primaried" by more conservative Republicans in the 2014 primary elections.
McKinley is up for reelection in 2014 and Capito is running for U.S. Senate in 2014. Out-of-state groups representing the Republican Party's right-most flank have already attacked her on fiscal issues.
Both McKinley and Capito denied the primaries played any role in their vote.
Rockefeller said if Congress failed to pass the bill taxes would have gone up for low- and middle-income West Virginians.
"I refused to let that happen, despite warped efforts by House Republicans to place more of the burden on those already hurting," Rockefeller said.
McKinley said Congress is going to have to do something to cut spending because the nation's debt load is unsustainable.
"Sooner or later we have to pay for that," McKinley said.
McKinley said the fraught fiscal cliff negotiations ended up hurting everybody. But he was especially unhappy with House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican. Some Republicans were unhappy with the terms of the final deal.
"Am I happy with him?" McKinley said. "No."
Still, McKinley said he supported Boehner.
Playing a sort of Goldilocks, Manchin said the whole deal was "the good, the bad and the ugly."
"I knew that going over the cliff was the wrong thing to do," he said.
In Manchin's view, the good is that Congress avoided many tax hikes; the bad is that the country did not come up with a "big fix" for its budget problems; and the ugly is that Congress will have a similar fight again in two months when lawmakers have to decide if they should let the government borrow more money.