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Region’s lawmakers divided on tax vote

This week’s votes to keep income tax rates from rising for most Americans split the House delegations in Washington and Idaho but unified the two states’ senators behind the last-minute deal.

Two Washington Democrats in the House voted against the tax changes, while the state’s three other Democrats and all four Republicans helped approve it.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican from Spokane, said Wednesday her vote was a close call that came down on the side of maintaining tax cuts: “My vote last night was to reduce taxes for as many Americans as possible.”

Many Republicans were concerned over the lack of spending cuts in the bill, she said. Eventually more House GOP members voted no, including some who are in leadership with McMorris Rodgers.

“It was a tough vote for everyone,” she said. “The take-away is a determination from Republicans that we are going to get spending cuts, going forward.”

The lack of spending cuts caused Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, to blast the agreement as “worse than no deal at all.” He voted no while Idaho’s other House member, Mike Simpson, voted yes.

The nation’s budget problems can’t be fixed by solely collecting more revenue, Labrador said in a statement: “Both parties must rein in out-of-control spending. Today, I’m not sure if either party is serious about reducing our debts and deficits.”

Democrat Patty Murray, Washington’s senior senator and chairwoman of that chamber’s Budget Committee, said Congress will tackle spending cuts in the coming months. They will have to make hard choices, in part because of decisions made in the previous decade to go to war and expand Medicare without paying for it, she said.

The deal protects middle-class taxpayers, she said, and extends a tax break for Washington and other states that have a sales tax but no income tax. Part of the agreement over tax rates puts off automatic across-the-board cuts to discretionary spending, known as sequestration, for only two months.

“Our feet are to the fire,” Murray said. “Sequestration could be very harmful … the worst of all worlds.”

Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, doesn’t believe those automatic cuts are the worst possible outcome. He voted for the tax rates, saying the deal was clearly about taxes – the main focus of the public – not about spending. It made the cuts initiated by President George W. Bush permanent, and the threshold for tax increases is higher than what President Barack Obama campaigned on, he said.

“That fight’s behind us,” Risch said.

The public has a right to expect Congress will tackle spending, but Risch said he’s “very cynical” that it will be any more successful than past efforts. That’s why he supported sequestration in the bill that set up the “fiscal cliff” and thinks it will be necessary later this year.

“They have proven themselves not able to deal with spending cuts,” he said of Congress, adding, “I hope I’m dead wrong on this.”

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