WASHINGTON, D.C. (WPRI) - They didn't love it, but in the end all four Democrats in Rhode Island's congressional delegation stood by President Obama and voted for this week's "fiscal cliff" compromise.
Just after 2 a.m. on New Year's Day, U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse joined the vast majority of their colleagues in voting for
a deal to head off part of the spending cuts and tax increases scheduled to take effect this year. The bill, hammered out by Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden, passed 89-8 in the Senate shortly after a self-imposed midnight deadline.
"This is not a responsible way to govern," Reed said in a statement. Whitehouse agreed almost verbatim, calling the last-minute back-and-forth "no way to govern."
Congressmen Jim Langevin and David Cicilline followed suit less than 24 hours later, joining the majority of their fellow House Democrats and voting to approve the Senate compromise. It passed the House 257-167, with 151 Republicans revolting against GOP House Speaker John Boehner and opposing the deal.
"This is no one's idea of a perfect bill," Langevin said in a statement, echoing the others.
All four cited three major reasons for their votes: preventing income-tax increases on families who make less than $450,000; extending unemployment benefits for out-of-work Americans; and avoiding cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits. Langevin also praised an extension of the tax credit for renewable energy firms such as Deepwater Wind, which is building a wind farm off Rhode Island's coast.
The vote was more evidence that when push comes to shove, Rhode Island's all-Democratic delegation almost always stands with their party's leadership - Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi - even as they protest the details of the deals those leaders negotiate with the GOP.
The same was true in December 2010, when the four backed a compromise to extend all the Bush tax cuts, and again in the summer of 2011, when they voted for a deal to end the debt-ceiling standoff by making deep cuts in defense spending and domestic programs.
Reed, the delegation's senior member and usually a loyal defender of the Obama administration, vented his frustration with the president compromising on tax rates so soon after he won the election. "I believe the White House should have stood firm on reducing the deficit by nearly $1 trillion by letting the income tax rates for those making over $250,000 revert back to Clinton-era levels," he said.
Indeed, the compromise bill puts in place a more conservative set of tax policies than any of the state's Democrats have advocated, legislating lower rates not only on income taxes but also on capital gains, dividends and inherited estates.
Reed expressed his fear that the country is "on the brink of another manufactured economic catastrophe" because the deal does not address a looming crisis over the nation's debt ceiling, which will need to be raised soon to prevent the country from defaulting on its obligations. "It appears the stage is set for another dangerous confrontation over the debt ceiling in just a few short weeks," he said.
The compromise legislation also delays the so-called sequester, a set of across-the-board reductions in government spending that will hit everything from the military to education programs, by only two months. Obama and the Republicans are already drawing lines in the sand over what should be done to head off those cuts.
"I am concerned that some Republicans are already talking about forcing more of these showdowns in the months ahead," Whitehouse said.
Cicilline and Langevin were mostly on the sidelines of the fiscal cliff debate, though their decisions to support the deal helped Pelosi put together enough Democratic votes to pass it despite heavy Republican opposition.
The state's two senators played more prominent roles in the discussions, with Reed pushing successfully once again for the extension of unemployment benefits and Whitehouse serving as a spokesman for Senate liberals.
The senators rang in the New Year on Capitol Hill as they got lobbied by Vice President Biden, their former colleague, and then waited past midnight with a few of their staff members for the final overnight vote on the Senate compromise.
The two House lawmakers were on standby throughout New Year's Day after receiving a briefing from Biden as the majority Republicans debated a course of action. Langevin received a visit in his office from his friend New York Congressman Charlie Rangel while they waited for the bells to sound and call them to the House chamber for a vote.
Cicilline took some obvious delight in the Republicans' divisions.
"Reports are House Republicans intend to oppose Senate compromise and will try to amend the bill," the first-term Democrat wrote on Twitter. "Who really represents [the] Republican majority?" He added later: "Wonder how bipartisan compromise has support of [Senate Republicans] but so much opposition from House Repubs. Has even McConnell given up on them?"
In Massachusetts, the compromise bill was backed in the Senate by Democrat John Kerry and Republican Scott Brown, and in the House by Democratic Congressmen Barney Frank, Jim McGovern and Bill Keating.
Ted Nesi (
email@example.com ) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com and writes the
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