By LARRY BIVINS, Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- The House of Representatives approved a Senate bill late Tuesday that raises taxes on the nation's wealthiest citizens to avoid an automatic tax increase on the rest of them.
On a 257-167 vote, the Republican-led House passed the measure that would extend Bush-era tax cuts to everyone except individuals earning $400,000 a year and couples making $450,000. It postpones automatic spending cuts for two months to give lawmakers more time to come to an agreement on what should be cut.
Reps. Reid Ribble of Sherwood and Paul Ryan of Janesville, the House Budget Committee chairman, were among the 85 Republicans voting for the measure. Republican Reps. Sean Duffy of Weston, Tom Petri of Fond du Lac and James Sensenbrenner of Menomonee Falls voted against it. All three of Wisconsin's Democratic House members voted for it.
Duffy said he rejected the bill because it lacked the spending cuts he says are necessary to seriously address the nation's $16.4 trillion debt.
"I respect the effort that went into crafting this agreement which will prevent tax increases for many Americans, including many of the hard-working Wisconsin families," Duffy said. "While my constituents want lower taxes, they also demand fiscal responsibility. I voted against this deal because it does not include a serious, sustainable plan for balancing the budget and reducing our debt."
The House vote followed passage earlier Tuesday by the Democrat-controlled Senate of legislation aimed at keeping the nation from falling over a "fiscal cliff," the phrase used to descibe a set of tax increases and spending cuts that were to take effect on Jan. 1.
Sen Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, joined 38 Republicans on the 89-8 vote for the bill in the wee hours Tuesday after millions of Americans had celebrated the beginning of a new year.
"Although I strongly prefer extension of current tax rates for all Americans, I supported the compromise bill that protects 99 percent of Wisconsinites from an income tax increase, limits the death tax, and prevents a dramatic increase in milk prices," Johnson said in a statement. "It is by no means a perfect piece of legislation."
Johnson said the legislation, the result of a deal brokered by Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., falls far short of what's needed to reduce the nation's debt. He called on President Barack Obama to present a more comprehensive debt-relief plan.
"The revenue raised by this legislation will equal approximately 7 percent of projected deficits," Johnson said. "It is now time for President Obama and his Democrat colleagues to show the American public their plan to close the other 93 percent of the deficit."
In addition to extending the Bush tax cuts for the middle class, the bill would preserve the current farm bill through Sept. 30, 2013, averting a steep hike in milk prices. And the measure extends unemployment benefits and the wind energy production tax credit.
The Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday the bill would add $3.9 trillion to the deficit over 10 years, primarily through the tax cut extensions.
Despite the overhwelmingly bipartisan support in the Senate, the measure hit a wall in the House before finally being approved. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., voiced his opposition to the bill because it lacks spending cuts and apparently he had plenty of support when House Republicans met privately to discuss the legislation.
"The lack of spending cuts in the Senate bill was a universal concern amongst members in today's meeting," said Brendan Buck, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Ribble said he supported the bill because, while it is far from ideal, "this legislation will provide tax certainty to millions of Americans and hardworking families. This bill also averts the dairy cliff by protecting dairy farmers, manufacturers, and consumers from substantial market uncertainty and higher retail prices.
"Going over the fiscal cliff would mean tax increases on everyone and that is not what our fragile economy needs right now," Ribble said. "I have said time and again that we should keep tax rates where they are until comprehensive tax reform can be achieved, and this bill does that for nearly 99 percent of all Americans."
Contact Larry Bivins at email@example.com