Republicans take a lashing for vote
Pennsylvania's Republican senator and congressmen on Thursday worked to clarify their positions for constituents as Tea Party groups lashed at them for voting for the “fiscal cliff” deal, saying they should be ashamed and promising primary challengers in the next election.
Tea Party groups helped to elect five of the state's 12 GOP House members in 2010 and conservative Sen. Pat Toomey of the Lehigh Valley, who once headed the anti-tax Club for Growth.
“To say that we are disappointed in our local Republican delegation would be an understatement,” the Philadelphia-based Independence Hall Tea Party Association said about the entire state delegation's vote for the bill.
Toomey defended his vote.
“We faced a unique set of circumstances with a law on the books that began on Jan. 1 that we could not avoid that would have raised taxes on everyone,” he said. “I did what I thought was right and spared as many folks as we could from a tax increase.”
“Most people who look at this closely understood why I took the vote,” was Toomey's answer to Tea Party criticism.
Americans for Limited Government President Bill Wilson targeted Rep. Mike Kelly of Butler, calling his vote “inexplicable and disappointing.”
“Raising taxes on job creators into the teeth of this recession is a recipe for higher unemployment,” Wilson said. “This vote is sad, and may engender a primary challenge in 2014 — and Rep. Kelly will have nobody to blame but himself.”
Kelly said House Republicans lacked bargaining chips going into the deal.
“Our attention must immediately turn to doing the real spending and tax reform that needs to be done to restore the fiscal health of this country,” said Kelly, whose website touts the passage of his bill to hold government employees more accountable to taxpayers and asks in bold print: “How long has it been since the United States Senate passed a budget? 1,345 Days.”
Republican Party of Pennsylvania Chairman Rob Gleason applauded GOP members of Congress, saying they “voted to make tax relief permanent for a majority of Pennsylvanians” and gave “more certainty to small businesses and job creators to continue to drive a recovering economy here.”
“Our Republican leadership will continue to fight to cut spending, reform entitlements and reduce our $16 trillion national debt,” Gleason said. He accused President Obama of reneging on a vow to take a balanced approach, by seeking “destructive tax hikes” without curbing spending in Washington.
Nationally, conservative disappointment raged on Twitter and Facebook.
Dana Loesch, a conservative talk show host and self-described rabble-rouser, tweeted: “If the House compromises they will lose control after midterms.” Said a tweet by Erick Erickson, editor-in-chief of RedState.com: “ ‘House GOP in Disarray' Isn't Just Liberal Media Spin.”
Yet, just as moderates and conservatives in the Republican Party split over the issue, so did chapters of the Tea Party. The 500-member Veterans and Patriots United in Western Pennsylvania pledged continued support for Toomey, Kelly and Rep. Tim Murphy of Upper St. Clair.
“We understand from a conservative point of view that they were basically boxed into the vote,” said Sam DeMarco, the group's president.
Murphy said his office heard from thousands of people with questions about the Social Security tax and how Congress would cut spending.
He said most criticism of his vote was not sharp in tone, “but there was a lot of confusion as to how people would be affected.”
Republican Rep. Bill Shuster of Hollidaysburg called the bill “imperfect” but said its “passage was essential to prevent ... sending our fragile economy back into recession.”
Paul Upson, 68, a registered Republican from Unity, said Murphy's vote didn't surprise him. Upson views the “nonsolution” bill as a way “to take money from those who have worked hard for it and let the government spend it.”
“Tim Murphy has a tag on him called Republican, but he's basically a Democrat,” Upson said. “I don't spend my time getting angry with people like that because I know what he represents.”
Upson said Republicans put themselves in “a really unpleasant situation.”
“They should have been dealing with this two years ago ... but they're not willing to do the hard things — take the stand, take the bad press,” he said.
Others were more forgiving.
Karen Beard, 60, of Ligonier said she doesn't like the compromise but can't be entirely critical of lawmakers who voted for it.
“I'm a Republican, but I think my own way,” Beard said. “I think the wealthy can afford the taxes more than we can. ... I feel the middle class is getting hit from all directions.”
She hoped for changes to entitlement programs, but “that wasn't even something that was brought up. It was just the rich against the middle class, basically.”
Bruce Adamson, 64, a Greensburg Democrat, is happy that Murphy voted for the deal. “If he hadn't, then nothing would have gotten done and that's not good. We need to compromise, and there's not a whole lot of that.”
Adamson said he's disappointed that a pending fight over the debt ceiling will bring “more delays, more problems and more bickering” in Congress.
Though it has more than 1,000 chapters across the country, the Tea Party is not a unified group with agreed-upon talking points on issues such as government spending or the national debt, said Bruce Haynes, a Washington-based media consultant with Purple Strategies.
“There are ... a thousand different viewpoints on what was the responsible thing to do here,” Haynes said.
Staff writer Kari Andren contributed to this report. Salena Zito is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at email@example.com.