Utah congressmen divided on the fiscal cliff

SALT LAKE CITY – The U.S. House of Representatives voted Tuesday night to pass a bill previously approved by the U.S. Senate to avert the so-called fiscal cliff. 

The deal passed the Senate in an overwhelming 89-8 vote, but Utah’s two Republican senators stood on opposite sides of the legislation. Utah’s three representatives voted against the legislation, which passed 257-167.

The 157-page bill maintains tax cuts for all individuals making less than $400,000 a year and couples making less than $450,000 a year and putting off some key issues – automatic cuts in federal spending and the debt ceiling – for another two months.

The bill saw strong bipartisan support in the Senate as both Republicans and Democrats got some of what they’d lobbied for while ceding on other issues. Longtime Senator Orrin Hatch voted in support of the deal, while freshman Senator Mike Lee voted against it.

Hatch said in a statement Tuesday that while the deal is far from perfect, he voted in support because of the stakes for Utahns and the nation.

“This isn’t legislation I would have written and it is far from perfect. But given the stakes for the people of Utah and the nation, I reluctantly supported it because it sets in stone lower tax rates for roughly 99 percent of American taxpayers,” the statement read.

Lee said in a statement that he voted against the legislation because Senators were only given a few minutes to read the full 157 pages of the bill and calls it a “failure.”

“Senators were only given the actual text of the 157-page bill without any official projections of its costs at 1:36 a.m., just six minutes before the vote. Everything about this bill was a failure: what Congress did, how Congress did it and what Congress failed to do,” Lee’s statement read.

The bill then went to the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives. While support for the bill was more contested than in the Senate, most Democrats and some Republicans voted in favor of the bill.

In all, 85 Republicans voted in support of the bill and 151 voted against it. There were 5 Republican no-votes. 172 Democrats voted in favor and 16 voted against the bill, with three not voting.

Third District Rep. Jason Chaffetz tweeted Tuesday that, “Without substantial, real first year cuts in spending I can’t vote for the bill passed by the Senate late last night.”

He tweeted Tuesday evening that he “Just voted NO.”

Utah’s lone Democratic Congressman, Second District Rep. Jim Matheson, who moves to the Fourth District in the next session, was one of 16 Democrats voting against the bill.

In a statement released Tuesday night, Matheson said:

“I have voted in favor of many of the tax provisions in the bill that benefit Utah families and small businesses. I continue to support these measures. However, to address the fiscal cliff,  legislation must include a strong framework for real deficit reduction. Sadly, this bill falls short. Without a serious mechanism to curb spending and put our country on a fiscally sustainable path, I could not support this bill.

 “As it stands, this is not a solution to the nation’s fiscal woes that prompted the discussion of the ‘fiscal cliff’. The bill simply kicks the can down the road on several pressing fiscal issues and leaves the difficult but inescapable decisions for coming weeks. Putting our country on a balanced budget path is critical for our future economic prosperity. I remain committed to continue working with those in both parties on legislation that results in a true long-term debt reduction plan. It’s the right thing to do today and for future generations.”

First District Rep. Rob Bishop said before the vote that he’s worried about the possible implications for Hill Air Force Base.

“On the potential negatives it could be done to our workforce and our military which would be postponed for two months and I don’t see a good solution to that coming in two months,” Bishop said. “I don’t think it will impact for two months like is say if indeed that military has to make a second half trillion-dollar cut, within this bill they would have to do six billion in cuts over the next two months, but if it went into full effect it would be like 500 billion over ten years and if indeed that happened, that second bit that could negatively impact HAFB.”

Bishop was among those voting against the bill.