Vermont's Congressional Delegation Backs 'Fiscal Cliff' Deal | Off Message

Vermont's Congressional Delegation Backs 'Fiscal Cliff' Deal

Sanders and his colleagues support a last-minute compromise to avert the so-called fiscal cliff, but Vermont's junior senator declines to explain why.

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In a late night vote Tuesday, Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) joined his colleagues in Vermont's three-member congressional delegation in backing a last-minute deal to raise taxes on the very wealthy and temporarily avert steep spending cuts.

Welch joined the vast majority of the House Democratic caucus and roughly a third of a bitterly divided House Republican caucus in approving a deal forged the night before by Senate negotiators and the White House. The final tally in the House was 257 to 167.

Barely 20 hours earlier, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) were part of a far more lopsided, 89-8 Senate majority voting in favor of the bill shortly after the new year dawned.

But neither Leahy, Sanders nor Welch appeared to be crowing about the compromise measure, which fell short of nearly everybody's hopes and expectations.

Sanders, who has been particularly outspoken during Congress' debate over the fiscal impasse, was notably quiet Tuesday after falling in line with most Senate Democrats. Asked for comment on Sanders' vote, spokesman Michael Briggs said only, "There is a long history of the senator's views on his website from releases and interviews."

Welch did not immediately release a statement after Tuesday's late-night vote, but in an interview with CNN earlier in the day, he expressed an ambivalence about the bill, while affirming he supported it.

"There's a lot of things I don't like and a lot of us thought that the president should have held firm on revenues of $1.6 trillion, because that's got to be a significant component of a long-term balanced deal," he said. "But on the other hand, we weren't able to get it — partly just because of the practical realities of legislating in this town."

At the same time, Welch said, the deal amounted to a "middle-class tax cut," while raising taxes on the very wealthy — and it demonstrated Congress' ability to find compromise eventually.

"There is no harm that is being done by this bill to the American economy and to the American middle class," he said. "So there are some positive things here, despite the fact that both sides are going to have a lot to criticize."

Leahy, for his part, weighed in publicly only on his successful effort to include in the compromise language for a temporary extension of the expiring farm bill, which his spokesman called a "big, big win and a tough one."

With the House unwilling to take up a new farm bill last year passed by both the full Senate and the House Agriculture Committee, the MILC safety net program for dairy farmers would have lapsed at the start of the new year. Leahy's spokesman said the senator secured a nine-month extension of current agricultural policies during "intense negotiations" Monday night and insisted on a lower trigger rate for dairy subsidies.

Disclosure: Paul Heintz worked as Peter Welch’s communications director from November 2008 to March 2011.

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