By James Coburn
Partisan trench warfare pushed the security of the American economy near its brink New Year's Day until the House voted 257-167 to avert the fiscal cliff.
The vote protects middle class Americans from a tax increase while individuals earning more than $400,000 or $450,000 for households will pay an additional tax.
"There are a lot of marital fights because of money. That's where we are as a country right now," said Congressman James Lankford, who voted against the legislation. Lankford was asked how he foresees important bipartisan decisions being made in Washington, D.C., in 2013.
"We have way overspent. We are deep in debt and we have all kind of consequences coming down on us now because of that debt," Lankford told The Edmond Sun. "You can't just keep overspending and assume there's never a consequence for it."
President Barack Obama got $600 billion of the $1.6 trillion of new revenue he had sought in the package. But, Lankford argued that this tax increase was a political decision for Obama to push for more federal programs.
"Under this law, more than 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of small businesses will not see their income taxes go up," Obama said after the vote. "Millions of families will continue to receive tax credits to raise their kids and send them to college. Companies will continue to receive tax credits for the research that they do."
More than two million Americans will continue to receive unemployment benefits if they continue to look for a job, Obama said. The law is one step in a broader effort to strengthen the economy, he said.
The deal, however, does not stop the rise of payroll taxes for every working American, Lankford said. Payroll tax is the funding mechanism for Social Security. It was reduced to 4.2 percent from 12.4 percent in 2011 and 2012 but was allowed to expire.
The Senate passed the measure overwhelmingly at 2 a.m. Tuesday with only eight no votes. Both Republican U.S. Sens. Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma voted yes.
"Our debt -- which is 120 percent of our economy if you count federal, state and local debt -- is still the greatest threat to our national security," Coburn said. "We will never address that threat until Congress and the president acknowledge that the only way to save entitlement programs is to change them."
Inhofe said he is hopeful the deal's two-month delay will help prioritize spending cuts while protecting our military and national security.
"One of my greatest concerns about the fiscal cliff has been the devastating cuts that would happen to our military due to defense sequestration," Inhofe said. "This deal avoids those cuts for two months to allow for a better solution."
Influential former Republican vice presidential contender Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin joined the 85 Republicans including Speaker of the House John Boehner in passing the bill. Boehner's chief deputy Eric Cantor, R-Va., however, cast a no vote. Democrats voted 172-16 in favor of the measure.
"I have great respect for Republicans and quite frankly some Democrats who voted for this on a principled position," Lankford said. "I'm not belligerent toward them at all and that's very important to me."
Lankford said there are some positive aspects of the legislation that includes permanent tax rates. Lankford also likes changes in the death tax, he said. The death tax exemption deal extends the exemption for up to $5 million, $10 million for couples, Inhofe said.
More debates on spending issues will follow in coming months. Congress still will need to come to terms with the sequester, budget and debt ceiling. More debate will take place before the next the fiscal cliff deadline set for March 1.
"I look forward to negotiating more spending cuts when we deal with the debt limit increase," Inhofe said. "Even though President Obama wanted that included in this deal, we are wisely waiting to address that separately so that we can have better spending cuts."
The legislation provides a one-year extension of the farm bill and provides subsidies for alternative energy. And provisions will be extended for one year to prevent doctors from being forced to take rate cuts for treating Medicare patients.