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Wednesday, January 02, 2013 8:15 PM

Lawmakers divided over fiscal cliff deal

By CRYSTAL HERBER, Herald Staff Writer

After weeks of negotiations, debate and bickering, it appears the United States is backing away from the edge of a $600-billion cliff.

Politicos struck a bipartisan deal Tuesday, successfully averting the so-called “fiscal cliff” for at least another two months.

Going over the metaphoric cliff would have meant an economy-punching half-trillion-dollar combination of sweeping tax increases and spending cuts, according to the Associated Press. Instead, the last-minute deal between lawmakers and the White House raises the top income tax rate on families earning more than $450,000 a year — about 1 percent of U.S. households — and includes about $12 billion in spending cuts.

Kansas’ Congressional delegation was split in its members’ votes, but one local politician said he agreed with the Sunflower State’s House representatives who voted against the deal.

Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville, newly elected to Kansas House District 5, said Wednesday he thought Republican U.S. Reps. Lynn Jenkins, Tim Huelskamp, Kevin Yoder and Mike Pompeo made the right choice in opposing the plan.

The House ultimately passed the bill 257-167 without their support.

The Senate passed the bill 89-8 with backing from Kansas’ Republican U.S. senators, Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts.

“I would agree with [the Kansas House members],” Jones said, noting he thought most Kansans also would agree with their no votes. “I congratulate them for actually listening to their constituents in voting the way they did.”

Three of the four Kansas representatives released statements detailing their thoughts on the deal and the predicament facing the United States. Each was adamant that the solution to the country’s budget deficit — at more than $45 trillion — is not in only increasing taxes, but also in cutting spending. 

“I believe government overspending will not be cured by sending more tax dollars to Washington, D.C.,” Yoder, of Kansas’ 1st District, said. “I could not support legislation that raised taxes without cutting spending and solving the debt crisis that plagues our nation.”

Jenkins, of Kansas’ 2nd District, deemed what she called “autopilot spending” as a major threat to the nation’s economy. 

“Our autopilot spending is eating our country’s fiscal health alive,” she said. “If there is anything everyone should agree on, it is the best New Year’s resolution for Congress is to finally address our spending problem, and start by passing a responsible budget.”

Huelskamp was more distrustful of the Senate’s votes in his statement about the deal. 

“This looks like typical insider deal for Washington, D.C., where they get 89 votes in the Senate, but at the end of the day, our debt will get bigger, spending will go up, taxes will increase, and I think Americans will continue to be very upset at Washington,” Huelskamp said. 

While going over the “cliff” also wasn’t a good option, Jones said, he didn’t agree with the affirmative votes on the deal by Moran and Roberts. Though he said he didn’t fully understand the reasons behind the senators’ choices, Jones said he was disappointed with their votes.

Moran released a statement explaining his vote. The biggest reason, he said, was keeping taxes lower. 

“My goal has been to see that these tax increases affect the fewest number of Americans as possible. This bill protects 99 percent of all Americans,” Moran said in a statement released Wednesday. “With permanent tax rates in place, families and business owners can have the certainty necessary to make economic decisions, invest in capital and equipment, create jobs, and grow the economy.”

Tuesday’s deal between feuding Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate, of course, does not mean taxes won’t increase on most American. Everyone receiving a paycheck in 2013 will see a 2-percent increase in the amount of payroll tax deducted from their checks. The increase is necessary because the deal did not extend the 4.2-percent tax rate workers had been paying for the past two years. That means workers earning the national average salary of $41,000 will receive $32 less on every biweekly paycheck. 

Also as part of Tuesday’s deal, the income tax rate for individual earners above $400,000 and families earning above $450,000 will increase. And a newly-enacted Medicare payroll tax and investment income tax likely will be felt by the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans in 2013. 

Simply raising taxes on the wealthy is not the answer, Jones, who said he is in favor of reducing taxes when possible, said. The wealthy are the job creators, Jones said, and therefore should not be punished, or taxed, for creating those jobs — especially while unemployment remains high. 

“Anytime you raise taxes, it affects everything,” Jones said. “Our leadership voted essentially to raise our taxes, but it’s not an answer to our deficit.”

Though the full impact of Tuesday’s deal has yet to be fully felt, Wall Street traders responded quickly. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained roughly 308 points, or 2.4 percent, following news of the deal. All 30 Dow stocks showed solid gains, and the S&P 500 and Nasdaq posted their largest percentage increases since late 2011.

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