By Anson Burlingame
Special to The Globe
JOPLIN, Mo. —
On Jan. 1, Congress voted to avoid going over the “fiscal cliff” by raising taxes on the “rich” (now defined as a family making over $450,000).
In doing so, tax increases on essentially all other Americans — about 99 percent of us — were avoided. A “no” vote by any senator or representative was essentially a vote for the largest tax increase in American history.
So, why did some members of Congress vote “no” on the bill when it was put before Congress on New Year’s Day?
I don’t know the answer, but I do know that 7th District Rep. Billy Long did exactly that. He voted “no.”
By the time the bill came to a vote in the House at about 11 p.m. Tuesday, the outcome was fairly certain that the bill would pass, largely because almost all Democrats voted in favor of the bill. Republicans voted almost 2 to 1 against the bill. But it was a safe vote in that even by saying “no,” the actual consequences of a huge tax increase were going to be averted.
So, Billy Long was able to use his vote to show allegiance to his no-new-taxes tea party faction without causing grave impact on those he represents. I suppose that is good politics.
However, in terms of governing for the good of all Americans, it was the wrong vote, in my view.
There’s no doubt he will have good reasons, and I can imagine the spin he’ll apply if he chooses to respond to this public challenge. He’ll probably point to the fact that the legislation raised taxes $41 for every $1 in proposed spending cuts — that is not a balanced approach to putting the federal government on firm financial footing. For that to happen, along with some tax increases spending must come down.
President Obama and the Democrats clearly put the GOP in a box on Jan. 1. But Billy Long remained true to the box, as demanded by the tea party. By voting as he did, he essentially voted to raise taxes on everyone in America. He remained true to his principles in one case by demanding only spending cuts to reduce the deficit, but also voted for a huge tax increase with his “no” vote. I see no way he can wiggle his way off of that hook, planted by those wily Democrats. In short, Billy Long and the tea party got out-politicked, but they will never admit it, I suppose.
The other huge political feat achieved by President Obama and Vice President Biden was their long-sought goal of splitting the GOP vote in the House. They got Republicans to fight with other Republicans, while Democrats accepted a compromise and voted as a solid bloc in the House.
I think the strategic term used in such cases is “divide and conquer,” which clearly happened in the House of Representatives on Jan. 1. The vote also reflects the continuing and substantial division inside the GOP.
All votes in Congress are important, but a vote in isolation must be one that promotes good government for we the people.
A huge tax increase is not a good vote. I challenge Long to explain why his vote was a good vote for all Americans.
Anson Burlingame lives in Joplin.