Cliff vote sets up potential 2016 flashpoint

Wednesday, January 2, 2013 - 11:44am

Political junkies were picturing the scene before the gavel came down: Rep. Paul Ryan 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 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.

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.

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.


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