Just when it appeared Congress had lost the ability to compromise on anything, especially taxes and spending, the House pushed through a bill late on New Year's Day to avert sweeping tax increases and harsh spending cuts. What was notable about the deal was that more Democrats than Republicans voted for it. Also notable was the Oregon delegation, which largely bucked the national trend with its votes.
The final tally was 257 to 167. What was unusual was that 172 Democrats and 85 Republicans voted yes, while 16 Democrats and 151 Republicans voted no. It's rare that a bill passes the House with a minority of the majority party in favor.
Rep. Greg Walden, Oregon's only Republican member of Congress, voted yes, backing embattled Speaker John Boehner while Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., voted no.
Three of Oregon's four Democratic House members also voted no. Peter DeFazio, Earl Blumenauer and Kurt Schrader each had their own reasons for rejecting the deal.
DeFazio said the bill merely put off a decision on spending cuts, and that Social Security and Medicare could be threatened as a decision on raising the debt ceiling approaches. Blumenauer wanted major cuts in Pentagon spending and agricultural subsidies. Schrader wanted a combination of tax increases and spending cuts, and called the deal a "Band-Aid solution."
Walden and Democratic Rep. Suzanne Bonamici both said the deal isn't perfect, but it prevents a major tax increase for middle-class families.
What the last-minute deal failed to do was address spending cuts, pushing those down the road toward another potential showdown over the federal debt ceiling — the issue that forced this 11th-hour drama in the first place.
Republicans threatened to force the country into default over what once was a routine matter — raising the limit on the government's borrowing power — and agreed to go along only by setting an artificial end-of-the-year deadline for automatic across-the-board spending reductions and expiring tax cuts.
The debt ceiling will need to be raised again in about two months, and Boehner has promised to demand budget cuts equal to any increase in the borrowing limit. That sounds prudent to most Americans — until specific programs come under fire.
The federal deficit cannot be eliminated in one fell swoop without plunging the economy back into recession. It can and should be reduced over time, but not too quickly.
Walden, in his new senior leadership role as head of the National Republican Campaign Committee, has the opportunity to be a voice of reason as the next "crisis" point approaches. He should take it.