ABOVE PHOTO: U. S. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) voted against the bill.
In a stunning climax, President Obama scored a last-minute victory as Congress halted income tax increases for 99 percent of Americans in a bid to keep the nation from g o i n g over the so-called “fiscal cliff.”
The deal came together near midnight Jan. 1 as the House joined the Senate in supporting the deal largely forged by Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The president, though, failed to win unanimous support from the 39-member Congressional Black Caucus for the final bill that will raise taxes for individuals making more than $400,000 a year and couples with a combined income of more than $450,000.
U.S. Rep. Robert C. “Bobby”Scott, D-Newport News, Va., refused to join the 36 Caucus members, who as their then chairman, Missouri Democrat Emanuel Cleaver put it, “reluctantly and cautiously” voted yes. Rep. Cleaver said the yes votes showed support for the deal’s agreement to protect lower-income people from tax increases, save long-term unemployment benefits for 2 million jobless and preserve Earned Income Tax Credits for the working poor. The deal also saved tax credits for college students and child care, he said.
Rep. Scott, though, broke with the president and the Caucus to oppose what he called an “irresponsible deal. He said the deal would pave the way for future drastic cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and other portions of the social safety net to cover the cost.
Rep. Scott, who also represents Richmond, was one of the two Caucus members who opposed the “fiscal cliff” deal. The other was outgoing Republican Rep. Allen B. West of Florida. (Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia did not vote because he left Washington on Monday to return to Atlanta in the wake of his wife Lillian’s death.)
Ironically, Rep. Scott, a liberal Democrat, ended up on the same side with archconservative House majority leader, Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Henrico County, who also voted no, mostly because the approved bill did not contain cuts in federal spending. In a sharply worded statement following the vote, Rep. Scott explained that he voted against the proposal “because it cut taxes and will add a staggering $3.9 trillion to our deficit (over 10 years) with no indication of how (the tax cuts) will be paid for.”
He spent the past year urging the president and House colleagues to let the Bush tax cuts expire as the best way to deal with the country’s massive deficit. He maintained that position.
“This bill,” Rep. Scott continued, “does nothing to reduce our deficit. It does, however, make the task of responsibly reducing the deficit more difficult and makes it much more likely that seniors, the disabled and our more vulnerable communities will bear the greatest burden.”
He was among 167 members of the 435-member U.S. House who opposed the agreement. The measure passed by 257 votes or 39 more than the 218 needed for a majority. Rep. Scott, Virginia’s lone Black congressman and an avid Obama supporter, was joined in opposition by nine other Virginia representatives, including Rep. Cantor. The only Virginia House vote for the deal came from Rep. Gerald Connelly, D-Fairfax. Both Virginia senators, Mark R. Warner and outgoing Jim Webb, voted for the deal that passed the 100-member upper chamber 89-8.
Despite the overwhelming Caucus vote for the deal, Rep. Cleaver said the members continue to be concerned about an array of potentially “dangerous and detrimental” spending cuts that were delayed for two months by the deal and remain on the table as Congress prepares by February to vote on raising the federal borrowing limit. Rep. Cleaver said the Caucus will continue to focus on the impact that such cuts could have on “communities of color and other vulnerable populations.”
Cleaver concluded, the Caucus “remains committed to serving as the ‘conscience of the Congress’ and protecting vulnerable communities.”