Herrera Beutler, Cantwell, Murray favor deal averting fiscal cliff

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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All three members of Congress representing Southwest Washington voted in favor of the last-ditch effort made on New Year's Day to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff," but they also all expressed some dissatisfaction with the agreement.

U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, said that although the deal was by no means perfect, she did what she had to do to make sure a vast majority of her constituents weren't hit with tax increases.

"The agreement Congress passed was not a long-term solution, and it did not accomplish every

thing that Southwest Washington deserves," she wrote in a statement. "However, the agreement I voted for does protect 99.5 (percent) of folks in our region from devastating tax hikes."

She was one of 85 House Republicans to vote in favor of the deal. In the House, 151 Republicans voted against the deal put forward by the Democratic-majority Senate, while five other Republicans didn't vote. Sixteen House Democrats voted against the deal and 172 supported it.

Herrera Beutler is one of many members of Congress who signed an Americans for Tax Reform pledge that promised not to raise taxes on their constituents. The organization's president, Grover Norquist, said during an interview with CNN that voting for the fiscal cliff deal put forward by the Senate was not a violation of his pledge.

That's because when Congress missed the fiscal cliff deadline, those Bush-era tax cuts technically went away. So rather than raising taxes on the wealthy, Congress was reinstating tax cuts for individuals making less than $400,000.

Herrera Beutler echoed that idea, though her spokesman, Casey Bowman, said her pledge to the Norquist group was not a consideration in her vote.

"(Herrera Beutler's) vote was a vote to cut taxes on 99 percent of Southwest Washington taxpayers," Bowman wrote in an email. "Her decision was totally based on protecting as many Southwest Washington families and individuals as possible, not on any pledge or outside group. Due to the stalled negotiations in the U.S. Senate, the lower tax rates had already expired."

Mixed reaction to vote

There was a mixed reaction to Herrera Beutler's vote in favor of the deal. Some on the right condemned her vote while some on the left praised her political independence.

Following news of the deal to avoid the fiscal cliff, the libertarian group Americans for Limited Government essentially threatened to recruit a primary challenger to run against Herrera Beutler in the next election. They interpreted her vote as increasing taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

"Rep. Herrera Beutler's vote is inexplicable and disappointing," the group wrote in one of many statements it released chastising lawmakers who voted for the deal. "Raising taxes on job creators into the teeth of this recession is a recipe for higher unemployment. This vote is sad, and may engender a primary challenge in 2014 -- and Rep. Herrera Beutler will have nobody to blame but herself."

Democrat Betty Sue Morris, a former state legislator in the 18th District and a former Clark County commissioner, praised Herrera Beutler's vote as a brave decision.

"I admire independence in elected officials above all other qualities besides honesty," Morris wrote in response to Herrera Beutler's statement. "I'm so pleased to see you showed the courage and independence to vote in the best interests of your district."

Spending tackled next

Democratic Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray said they were disappointed by the gridlock in Congress that led to the last-minute deal, in part because it still leaves many questions unanswered. Mainly, Congress needs to address the across-the-board spending cuts that were set to expire at the end of 2012.

Instead, the fiscal cliff deal extended the deadline for those cuts — also called sequestration — for a couple months.

"There are still deeply painful spending cuts that will need to be addressed that impact vulnerable families and communities," Murray said. "I am going to keep fighting to make sure that our nation's budgets are fair, and that middle-class families, seniors and small business owners are given the opportunity to succeed."

Herrera Beutler said she will fight to "make sure we keep this commitment to reducing federal spending, and will seek other ways to further tackle our debt as soon as possible."

House Republicans previously passed an alternative spending reduction plan that would replace sequestration and protect defense spending from cuts. Herrera Beutler has opposed that proposal, saying that the Pentagon's budget likely includes wasteful spending that could be cut.

Other deal outcomes

Herrera Beutler and Cantwell said they were happy to see a sales tax deduction included in the deal. Washington residents who itemize their state and local sales taxes on their federal tax returns will be able to keep doing so when filing their 2012 and 2013 taxes. Residents in other states get state income tax deductions, but Washington has no state income tax.

"Extending the state sales tax deduction puts an average of $500 back in the pockets of 850,000 Washington tax filers," Cantwell said.

The deal to avoid the fiscal cliff also included tax credits for businesses that hire returning veterans, build affordable housing or produce clean energy, Cantwell said.

Herrera Beutler praised the deal for providing tax relief to owners of foreclosed homes, and for making permanent tax relief for married couples and those with children. She also said the deal halted cuts in Medicare reimbursements given to doctors.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or www.facebook.com/reportermathieu or www.twitter.com/col_politics or stevie.mathieu@columbian.com