Tepid backing, backtracking from state’s delegation on fiscal deal

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Congress half-dodged the fiscal cliff this week with halfhearted support even from those who voted for the deal.

All four House Republicans from Washington state endorsed higher income taxes on top earners — despite their earlier signed pledges not to raise new taxes. And two Democrats from the Puget Sound area voted against the compromise deal they say accepts too few concessions from Republicans in return for potentially devastating spending cuts later.

Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, who had been adamant about holding out for higher taxes from the Republicans to soften budget cuts, said she was disappointed Congress delayed reckoning on automatic spending cuts until March 1 instead of agreeing on a comprehensive accord. Still, she credited the GOP for agreeing to let marginal income-tax rates go back up for the wealthiest Americans.

“You don’t get everything you want,” said Murray, who supported the deal. She said it was huge progress that “wealthiest Americans are paying their fair share.”

Yet Murray made clear she expects further concessions from Republicans on new revenue. She said the government has neglected investments in education, infrastructure and other critical areas, and said both spending cuts and additional revenue will be needed to tame the deficit and to maintain America’s economic vitality.

But Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane vowed not to let that happen. McMorris Rodgers, the No. 4 House Republican leader in the new Congress that begins Thursday, said it’s the Democrats’ turn to address the fact that “the government has a spending problem.”

Republicans “have taken taxes off the table,” she said. “We are going to be demanding meaningful spending cuts.”

McMorris Rodgers had previously said she would never vote to raise tax rates on anyone. But she did vote for the deal on New Year’s Day that allows the top income-tax rates to rise from 35 percent to 39.6 percent. She argued that her vote technically was to cut taxes because the Bush-era tax rates had expired on Dec. 31.

The three other House Republicans from Washington — Dave Reichert of Auburn, Doc Hastings of Pasco and Jamie Herrera Beutler of Vancouver — voted for the tax accord.

All four had signed a pledge with anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist not to vote for new taxes.

Sen. Maria Cantwell also voted for the tax deal. So did retiring Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton, in his last House roll-call vote after 36 years in Congress.

Only two members of the state’s delegation voted no: Reps. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, and Jim McDermott, D-Seattle.

McDermott and Smith said they believe House Republicans will not budge further on new revenue.

“That leaves us in a very bad place come March 1,” Smith said.

“I want new revenue because I don’t want devastating cuts to Medicare, Social Security” and other essential programs.

Smith also complained that making the Bush tax cuts permanent for individuals with taxable incomes below $400,000 and for couples below $450,000 put 90 percent of potential tax revenue off-limits. He argued a more reasonable income threshold would have been closer to $100,000 for an individual person.

McDermott said the deal had many good things. They include extended federal unemployment insurance for people who’ve tapped out 26 weeks of state benefits and a renewal for 2012 and 2013 of sales-tax deductions for residents of Washington and other states without a state income tax.

“But you have to look at the whole package,” McDermott said. Democrats, he said, have received “all the revenue we’re going to get,” leaving only spending cuts and more spending cuts to follow.