Toomey, Casey, Menendez back cliff compromise

WASHINGTON -- Three Senators from Pennsylvania and New Jersey voted in favor of the fiscal cliff compromise overwhelmingly approved by the Senate early Tuesday morning, 89-8.

Sens. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), Bob Casey (D., Pa.) and Bob Menendez (D, N.J.) all backed the bill to avert the most painful tax hikes and budgtes cuts included in the cliff. They represent a cross-section of Senate ideology: Menendez, a left-leaning urban Democrat; Casey, a moderate Democrat in a state with big, liberal cities but also a vast swath of conservative territory, and Toomey, a staunch fiscal conservative who has strongly opposed tax increases.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.) has been home with the flu, under doctor's orders, according to his staff, and was one of three Senators who did not vote on the plan.

Toomey's vote was perhaps the most surprising, and potentially influential. The former head of the anti-tax Club for Growth is one of the Senate's leading voices for fiscal conservatism, and other Pennsylvania Republicans sometimes look to his positions when considering their own votes. Several Republicans from the Philly suburbs may be needed to get the compromise plan through the House, and Toomey's vote provides a measure of political cover.

While the cliff plan allows income tax rates to rise on couples earning $450,000 and up, Toomey focused on the many people whose taxes will remain flat as a result of the deal.

"One of my top priorities since coming to Congress has been to pursue policies that maximize economic growth and job creation. Lower taxes do both. Consistent with this commitment, today, I voted to protect 99 percent of taxpayers from a large tax increase," Toomey said in a news release.

"My preference would have been to avoid higher taxes for all Americans," Toomey said, "but I believe this legislation is the best we could do for taxpayers and job seekers in Pennsylvania."

Toomey had said weeks ago that his goal was to push for the "the lowest possible taxes," given the fact that President Obama's re-election all but assured that some taxes would rise.

Democrats argued that tax increases on the wealthy were needed as part of a "balanced" plan to reduce the federal deficit.

"Though not perfect, this bill is essential in striking a balance between keeping the fragile economic recovery on track while making concrete steps toward addressing our country’s long-term budget challenges," Menendez said in a release.

Menendez also cited other benefits: an extension of emergency unemployment benefits; a permanent fix for the Alternative Minimum Tax to prevent it from hitting middle class families and extending a program to provide tax credits for higher education expenses.

Casey, too, praised some of the other elements of the deal that have received less attention than the income tax rates that have consumed most of the headlines.

"While this deal is far from perfect, the Senate took the appropriate steps to protect the middle class and keep in place common sense measures - like the earned income tax credit and unemployment insurance - that will help keep the economy on track," Casey said in a statement. "I am hopeful that the House will do the same."

Technically, the vote just before 2 a.m. Tuesday was to lower taxes, not raise them. By law, when Jan. 1 began all income tax rates rose, so the votes on the cliff compromise were to lower the rates for most people back to their previous levels. The practical effect, though, is that a broad-based income tax hike has been allowed to happen for the first time in decades. Individuals making $400,000 and up and couples making $450,000 and more will face higher rates.

The House is expected to take up the bill as early as Tuesday, though it is expected to face a tougher fight there.