Texas’ two U.S. Senators both voted in favor of the “fiscal cliff” bill that extended the Bush-era tax cuts permanently on New Year’s Day. But Wise County’s two representatives in the House found themselves on opposite sides of the vote – a rarity for the two conservative Republicans.Congressman Mac Thornberry, who represents the western half of the county and the entire Texas panhandle, voted for the measure that makes current tax rates permanent.
Congresswoman Kay Granger, whose district includes the eastern half of the county and much of Fort Worth, voted against it.
“Avoiding the so-called ‘fiscal cliff’ was important, but not at any price,” Granger said in a news release to constituents this week. “I supported extending the Bush tax cuts and addressing other issues that will help small businesses and middle-class families. However, the bill Congress voted on [Jan. 1] did nothing to address the massive spending by Congress and the Administration.”
Granger said the bill represents another episode of “kicking the can down the road.”
“This bill… is not a solution to our nation’s problems – it will just make those problems worse,” she said. “I voted against it because I want to make clear the urgency of getting spending under control.”
Thornberry said the failure to include spending cuts was “a missed opportunity.” But he saw enough positives in the bill that he gave it his vote.
“Making the current tax rates permanent for the vast majority of Americans, as this bill does, is a major accomplishment,” he said. “I continue to hear from many people in our part of Texas that stability in the tax code is necessary for their families and their businesses.”
He cited other provisions in the bill, including an answer on the “death tax” and a short-term extension of the current farm bill, as positives, and noted that it also prevents a 27-percent cut in Medicare reimbursement to physicians.
“I supported efforts to have significant cuts included in this measure,” he said. “I also believe that some parts of the bill discourage work and encourage dependency on the government. But [this] is not our last opportunity to fight for reforms and significant cuts.”
Granger wanted to use the looming fiscal cliff to achieve those cuts sooner, rather than later.
“This bill didn’t just fail to make meaningful spending cuts, it didn’t cut spending at all,” she said. “Not only does the bill fail to solve our country’s long-term problems, it fails even to fully solve problems related to the fiscal cliff.”
The bill passed the House by a 257-167 margin. Thornberry was one of only four Texas Republicans (out of 23) to vote for it.
Granger, whose district includes Lockheed-Martin, Bell Helicopter and other major defense contractors, was particularly unhappy that the bill did not deal with the deep cuts to defense spending that could still take effect in two months.
“While last night’s vote did directly address the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, it only temporarily delayed the other half of the cliff – the big automatic budget cuts known as sequestration,” she said. “The defense cuts that are part of sequestration would be enormously damaging to our national defense, so it’s important that we replace big defense cuts with responsible cuts to other parts of the budget.”
The issue will quickly be back on Congress’s agenda.
“Our national defense can’t possibly be planned around two-month patches, and the American economy should not be put through the uncertainty that comes with these kinds of temporary fixes,” she said.
Thornberry sounded hopeful that Congress will make meaningful spending cuts.
“The problem of taxes is solved,” he said. “To me, that was a major, major deal. We’ve been in a position that if we do nothing, taxes will go up. We don’t have to worry about that anymore. Now, with taxes done, we can pivot and focus on spending.”
The issues of the next three months are the debt limit, sequestration and the government funding limit, he said.
“If you don’t raise the debt limit at some point, then the government will default on its obligations,” he said. “If we don’t take advantage of that and begin to address entitlements, we’re going to end up like Greece and the fallout – in the financial markets and throughout our economy and the world’s economy – would be disastrous.
“I am a conservative and a realist,” he added. “We do not have to do all of these things in one bill, and it would be a mistake to try. But we must do them for the sake of our country and our future.”
Thornberry said he hopes “the dynamics” will change a little in the new Congress, even though the makeup of both the House and the Senate stays much the same.
“We’ve had two years of stalemate,” he said. “Now with taxes done, President Obama doesn’t have to run again… It’s an opportunity to focus on debt and get some things done.
“There were abundant reasons to have voted against this,” he said. “But I couldn’t not vote for it because the alternative was so much worse.”
The Clarendon rancher/lawyer sounds almost optimistic about the 2013 session.
“What’s been happening is, one side’s been saying, ‘We’ll approve this if you’ll give us this,’ and it’s been a tradeoff. Now there’s nothing to trade off. This gives us an opportunity to really get something done – and the reality is, we can do that, and rein these programs in, and they’ll still run better than they’re running now.”
Granger, the former Fort Worth mayor, sounds more skeptical.
“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – our country’s fiscal problems are due to our government spending too much, not taxing too little,” she said. “We won’t get anywhere near a balanced budget just by raising taxes on high-income earners and small businesspeople. If we are going to start getting our budget back on a sustainable path, we need to make real spending cuts and real entitlement reforms.
“We can’t keep kicking the can down the road,” she said. “The time for action is now.”
On that, she and Thornberry undoubtedly agree.