The imminent threat of America falling over a "fiscal cliff" has been avoided, but Congressman John Fleming said the bill passed on Capitol Hill earlier this week did little to help the nation's biggest problem – rabid spending.
"Washington's spending addiction was given another shot Tuesday night," said Fleming, who was one of five Louisiana Republican congressmen to vote NO on the late-night measure. "I came to Washington four years ago on a promise to fight for less taxes, smaller government, and economic freedom. The bill that I voted NO on will increase taxes, allowing for more wasteful government spending and for a larger and more intrusive federal government."
Fleming said the bill enacts $10 of tax increases for every $1 of spending cuts, increases direct spending by $332 billion and spends another $30 billion extending unemployment benefits "far beyond customary and historic lengths of time that were described as 'temporary' when they were established in 2008."
"[The bill] continues dozens of tax credits, like the $200 million that will subsidize the rum industry in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands," Fleming continued. "The contentious issues of entitlement reform, the debt ceiling and real spending cuts were completely ignored, and the matter of deep cuts to our defense spending was pushed a little farther down the road."
Passage of the bill means that taxes on the middle class will not increase dramatically as originally feared, rather the legislation will raise tax rates on incomes of more than $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples. President Obama had originally campaigned for a $200,000 individual and $250,000 couple mark.
The bill passed in the House by a 257-167 margin. While Fleming voted against the measure, other Republicans sided with Democrats for a non-partisan passage.
Of the bill's passage, President Obama said, "Thanks to the votes of Republicans and Democrats in Congress, I will sign a law that raises taxes on the wealthiest two percent of Americans while preventing tax hikes that could have sent the economy back into recession."
The Senate approved the measure on a vote of 89-8. Louisiana senators Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, and Republican David Vitter both supported the bill.
The measure split the upper ranks of House Republicans with Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) voting in favor, while Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and Party Whip Kevin McCarthy (California) opposed the bill. Republican Vice Presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan supported the measure.
Boehner said, "Now the focus turns to spending. The American people re-elected a Republican majority in the House, and we will use it in 2013 to hold the president accountable for the 'balanced' approach he promised, meaning significant spending cuts and reforms to the entitlement programs that are driving our country deeper and deeper into debt."
Cantor told reporters, "I do not support the bill. We are looking, though, for the best path forward."
Like Fleming, Cantor said he was concerned because the bill did little to nothing to cut spending.
Even though the measure spared a larger tax increase, taxes remain on the rise for millions of Americans due to the expiration of a two percentage point temporary cut in the Social Security payroll tax. The cut expired December 31, and Congress made no effective move to extend it.
The legislation only clears way for another round of controversy in March.
With the Treasury expected to need an expansion in borrowing authority, and funding authority for most government programs set to expire, Republicans have made it clear they intend to use those events as leverage to look at real, hard cuts in spending.