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Carol Felsenthal
On politics

The Fiscal Cliff: What You Need to Know about how Illinois Reps Voted

Peter Roskam votes no, along with Tea Partiers Joe Walsh and Bobby Schilling. Plus: another, more serious, fiscal cliff coming in March.

No surprise that Republicans Joe Walsh and Bobby Schilling, Tea Partiers whom voters ousted last November, voted yesterday against the fiscal cliff bill. More interesting is Peter Roskam, who as Chief Deputy Whip is part of the Republican leadership (#4), and, with Majority Leader Eric Cantor (#2) and Whip Kevin McCarthy (#3), voted no—thus parting company with Speaker John Boehner (#1), who voted yes.

Their no votes were presumably cast in opposition to the fact that the bill not only lacked any budget cuts but contained spending increases, and would, according to the CBO, add $4 trillion to the federal deficit. Voting no also meant saddling 99 percent of earners with a tax increase.

So Roskam, who had previously voted with Boehner on every fiscal cliff-related bill to reach the floor, chose to follow Cantor instead of casting his vote with the Speaker. My hunch is that Roskam sees Cantor as the future of the party and perhaps even as the next Speaker, if not now—the vote for Speaker is tomorrow—then perhaps next time. In a telephone and email exchange Wednesday, Roskam’s spokesman denied any such motive: “The Congressman was asked [this morning] on WLS Bruce and Dan show who he was supporting for Speaker, to which he responded:`Boehner. Easy Answer.’”

Some further thoughts on the “messy” (Obama’s word), complicated, and merely stopgap result of this New Year’s vote:

+ Roskam et al. were not exactly profiles in courage: waiting until the final seconds, once Cantor had cast his no vote, when the tally board reached 218, telling them that this House was going to pass the bill by a comfortable margin so their no votes were really meaningless. (The bill passed 257-167; it needed 217 to pass.) Boehner cast his yes vote at the start of the countdown. None of the above attempted to add spending cuts to the bill and send it back to the Senate, which easily passed the bill (89-8) and made clear that it would not reconsider an amended bill.

+ By voting no, Republican members of the Illinois delegation (Roskam, Walsh, Schilling and Randy Hultgren; all Democratic members voted yes) voted against extending unemployment compensation ($30 billion for one year more of benefits) and payments to doctors, some of whom were threatening to refuse Medicare patients or close their doors, for treating Medicare patients ($21 billion for an additional year).

+ Democrat Danny Davis, one of the Congress’s staunchest liberals, offered one of the most interesting if unfathomable observations: “New situations make ancient remedies uncouth.”

+ According to the Sun-Times’s Lynn Sweet, Judy Biggert, a centrist Republican who lost her seat last November and voted yes, “urged colleagues to take a reality check and not throw out the tax package.” (Other Republican members of the Illinois delegation who voted yes are Robert Dold, who lost his North Shore seat last November to a Democrat; Donald Manzullo, who lost his seat in the Republican primary; Tim Johnson, who is retiring; Adam Kinzinger; Aaron Schock; and John Shimkus. 

+ The Illinois congressional delegation was missing one vote—that of Jesse Jackson Jr., who resigned his seat at the end of 2012. On the Senate side, Mark Kirk was listed as “not voting.” He returns to work tomorrow. (Jim DeMint, who resigned his seat to serve as head of the Heritage Foundation, and 89-year-old Frank Lautenberg, who will likely be challenged on age issues if he chooses to run for reelection, also did not vote.)

+ Two months from now, the nation will watch another cliffhanger more serious than the one just past, as Congress wrestles with raising the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling (aka the borrowing limit) and with the reality of $110 billion in automatic and deep cuts in the Pentagon and other domestic programs including entitlements (aka the sequester). We’ve watched the debt limit debacle before (in 2011) when Congress kicked down the road the question of whether to raise the amount the government can borrow, permitting it to pay its bills and stay open for business. This time, the end of the road comes this very winter—late February or March 2013. (The money that keeps government agencies open runs out on March 27.) We don’t even have the luxury of moving into another season before facing plunging markets, another possible downgrade of bonds, and the always scary drama of plunging back into a recession.

+ If Eric Cantor were to replace John Boehner in the House’s top job, Cantor would become the first Jewish Speaker of the House, a position that was expected by many who follow Congress to go to Rahm Emanuel.

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