January 2nd, 2013
09:27 AM ET
10 years ago

Cliff vote sets up potential 2016 flashpoint

(CNN) - Political junkies were picturing the scene before the gavel came down: Rep. Paul Ryan, Sen. Rand Paul and Sen. Marco Rubio, sparring on an Iowa debate stage in December 2015, explaining their three-year-old votes on the deal designed to avert the fiscal cliff.

The top prospective Republican presidential candidates on Capitol Hill took opposite sides on the package that will stave off automatic tax increases - Rubio and Paul said "no" in the Senate's 2 a.m. vote on New Year's Day, while Ryan said "yes" when the House voted nearly 20 hours later.

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The plan approved Tuesday raises tax rates for individuals earning more than $400,000 and couples earning more than $450,000 - marking the first time in two decades that rates jump for the wealthiest Americans. Raising rates has long been anathema to Republicans, though the timing of Tuesday's vote technically allows them to say they lowered tax rates, since rates automatically increased on January 1.

Whether voters understand that distinction remains to be seen. Top conservative lobbyist Grover Norquist, whose Americans for Tax Reform pushes candidates to sign a pledge never to raise taxes, said the plan wouldn't violate his group's beliefs.

"The Bush tax cuts lapsed at midnight last night," Norquist tweeted Tuesday. "Every (Republican) voting for Senate bill is cutting taxes and keeping his/her pledge."

Other conservative voices were less forgiving. Amy Kremer, the chairwoman of the Tea Party Express, wrote on Twitter she was "extremely disgusted with what happened in the House tonight."

"There will be consequences," she warned.

Matt Kibbe, the president of the conservative tea party-aligned group Freedomworks, said the bill that passed the House was an "epic fail," and offered a similar notice to congressional leaders.

"If Congressional leadership fails to do the bare minimum to secure our economic future, then we will find someone that will," Kibbe said.

Conservative columnist and CNN contributor Erick Erickson was to the point on Twitter: "Thus ends the Paul Ryan 2016 Presidential Exploratory Committee."

As he left the House floor Tuesday, Ryan hinted that he recognized the anger on the right.

"I am not afraid of anything," Ryan said. "I think it needed to pass."

In a statement later, he described his decision-making in more detail: "As elected officials, we have a duty to apply our principles to the realities of governing. And we must exercise prudence."

"Will the American people be better off if this law passes relative to the alternative?" Ryan continued. "In the final analysis, the answer is undoubtedly yes. I came to Congress to make tough decisions-not to run away from them."

Rubio took the opposite side, writing Tuesday that, "rapid economic growth and job creation will be made more difficult under the deal reached here in Washington."

"This deal just postpones the inevitable, the need to solve our growing debt crisis and help the 23 million Americans who can't find the work they need," he wrote.

Sen. Rand Paul - the son of repeat GOP presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul - told Wolf Blitzer Monday he didn't like the measure since it meant Congress was "kicking the can down the road and we aren't really addressing the real crisis in our country." The tea party favorite has not ruled out a run for president in 2016.

Ryan's "aye" vote put the House Budget Committee chairman at odds with his fellow GOP "young guns" - Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and Whip Kevin McCarthy of California - who both broke with House Speaker John Boehner to cast "no" votes on the deal.

The trio wrote a book together in 2010, just before Republicans took control of the House. The "young gun" designation followed Ryan throughout the 2012 presidential campaign, when his selection as Mitt Romney's running mate was hailed as a nod to a new brand of budget-conscious fiscal conservatism.

That label has been similarly foisted upon Marco Rubio, who campaigned against fellow Republican Charlie Crist in a 2010 Senate primary based largely on Crist's support for the 2009 stimulus bill. Since then, Rubio has spoken forcefully about the need to cut federal spending, including during his high-profile Republican National Convention speech last summer in Tampa.

The split between Ryan and Rubio - and the overwhelming number of House Republicans who voted against the plan - are signs of political maneuvering, said CNN contributor John Avlon.

"You can already see the fault lines. That clearly is a calculation about future ambitions," Avlon said on CNN's "Starting Point." "The ratio was two-to-one, almost two-to-one Republicans voted against this deal who voted for it. That means they believe this is a liability in a primary process."

Long, detailed voting records have long been a thorn in the side of senators and congressmen with presidential aspirations. In 2008, President Barack Obama became the first senator to be elected to the White House since John F. Kennedy Jr. - and Obama hadn't even completed an entire term in the upper chamber.

Single votes in Congress almost always resurface during heated presidential primary and general election campaigns. Sen. John Kerry spent the spring and summer of 2004 explaining why he voted against a supplemental appropriation for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, including telling a crowd he "actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it."

And Hillary Clinton's vote in the Senate to authorize the war in Iraq provided fodder for her then-rival Barack Obama during their battle for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

CNN's Dan Merica contributed to this report.

Filed under: Fiscal Cliff • Marco Rubio • Paul Ryan
soundoff (40 Responses)
  1. Wilson

    And so our paychecks drop another 2%. How many more % will they drop with the additional taxes from obamacare?

    January 2, 2013 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  2. GI Joe

    Wilson – it drops 2% - back to where it was BEFORE Obama gave a temporary 2% cut. Didn't hear you say thanks for the 2% cut for over a year. What part of "temporary" do republicans not understand?

    January 2, 2013 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  3. Rudy NYC

    Wilson asked:

    And so our paychecks drop another 2%. How many more % will they drop with the additional taxes from obamacare?
    I dunno. We have two wars to pay for first. We also have to first figure out how to make up for the increased federal revenue that materialized under the Bush economic policies, "deficits don't matter."

    January 2, 2013 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  4. rs

    Jim Hahn

    Republicans have locked themselves out of the White House for at least the next 12 years. They seems to be under the delusion that obstruction is governance while it's quite the opposite. Republicans have yet to show the American people that they can lead and govern. They have vacated the center and the Democrats will gladly take that mantle and lead for the foreseeable future.
    I agree with you completely, and can only add that were there even the tiniest of doubt, the GOP has affirmed that they really are only the party of the 2%. They seem bent on losing propositions like defending the Defense budget at the cost of say, education, health care or seniors. Their priorities are so askew that they cannot hope to gain majorities in national elections for some time to come.

    January 2, 2013 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  5. GI Joe

    Lots of baggers will be voted out AGAIN in 2014. Slowly but surely we will get rid of the traitors.

    January 2, 2013 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  6. rs

    Grow up. Our taxes and tax rates have been at record lows for about 15 years. Reality has played a hand, and guess what? Good government costs money.

    January 2, 2013 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  7. NRyAhoo

    The Tea Party will do its best to ensure any reasonable candidates are defeated in the primaries. The Democrats thank you! Keep up the good work!

    January 2, 2013 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  8. Jesus Christ Superstar

    Seriously, if the Republicans are going to run another round of joke candidates, maybe just skip 2016, save some money, and worry about 2020

    January 2, 2013 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  9. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    These people who didn't want to do anything are those that don't understand what is going on here. The idea that having tax rates return to the norms on upper income people will hurt job creation are on something that prevents them from seeing reality. If there is a way to get a job and they can afford it, the BUSINESS will move forward and do it.

    I don't think that anyone wants to pay taxes. I know that we all have to pay taxes. The question is to streamline those services and reduce the cost while delievering the same level of competent action is going to be a big question. There will be no easy answer.

    January 2, 2013 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  10. Wilson


    Grow up. Our taxes and tax rates have been at record lows for about 15 years. Reality has played a hand, and guess what? Good government costs money.
    What you on the left do not seem to get is that taxes do not need to go up. Plenty of money is collected in taxes. To much of it is handed out to the people that are capable of working, but to lazy to do so. In addition, to much is handed out to corporations making record profits. If they will stop that, our taxes will not need to go up. All they are doing is taking more of our capability to support our families away from us. Taxes make our paychecks go down, but costs of everything we purchase, food, utilities, etc is going up. Face it, no one in washington cares about the "little people."

    January 2, 2013 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  11. Howard

    Not to worry. These guys are all senators, and the Repubs always prefer a governor for their presidential candidates. Make sense, when you think about it. Governors don't have to explain or justify their votes on controversial legislation. Senators do.

    January 2, 2013 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  12. Ian

    The U.S. is embarassing itself in front of the world. Hopefully your new congress wil contain some new blood who know how to compromise. Surprised Ryan did the right thing but Cantor must go

    January 2, 2013 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  13. Squigman

    Pictured in this article: Three people of no consequence at all.

    January 2, 2013 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  14. Stephen in VA

    "Every (Republican) voting for Senate bill is cutting taxes and keeping his/her pledge," [Norquist said]. Boy, talk about definitions of convenience. It was only a few months ago that he quite firmly said that any increase in taxes would violate the pledge.

    January 2, 2013 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  15. Larry in Houston

    don't understand why WB or A/C gave the "Grover" so much airtime last night. He must have already passed his allotted time on fox.

    January 2, 2013 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
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