CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Members of West Virginia's congressional delegation explained their votes on legislation that was passed Tuesday night to avoid the "fiscal cliff."
West Virginia's two Republican members of the House of Representatives, Reps. Shelley Moore Capito and David McKinley, voted against the bill. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., voted for it. The bill passed the House by a 257-167 vote; all but 16 Democrats voted for it, as did 85 of 236 Republicans.
The House's vote came after the Senate voted overwhelmingly for the bill. Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, both D-W.Va., voted for it. Only eight senators -- three Democrats and five Republicans -- voted against it.
On a Wednesday conference call, Manchin called the bill "one of the most difficult votes I took" during his brief tenure in the Senate.
"I thought about it long and hard. And it had the good, the bad and the ugly," said Manchin, who will be sworn into a full six-year Senate term Thursday.
Manchin said, the "good" was protecting 99 percent of West Virginians from income tax increases, while the "bad" was the lack of "spending cuts and entitlement reforms to put our finances back in order."
"The 'ugly' is that we will be back to the same issues in two months," he said.
The deal passed Tuesday does allow a 2 percent payroll tax cut to expire, meaning almost everyone who draws a paycheck will see a decrease in his or her take-home pay. On Wednesday, Manchin reiterated his support for the expiration of the payroll tax cut.
"That was putting Social Security in jeopardy. It should not be extended," Manchin said. "For the sake of Social Security, it had to stop."
The new legislation also extends tax cuts for Americans making less than $400,000 a year and families making less than $450,000. Some Democrats wanted the extension of tax cuts to be limited to people earning less than $200,000 a year and families earning less than $250,000.
Manchin said he was happy that the new legislation extends child tax credit and student loan deductions, as well as continuing federal funds to improve coal-mine safety and tax credits for businesses hiring returning veterans.
Rahall said of the legislation, "I think it is a step in the right direction. It will help the middle class....
"It is unfortunate that the theatrics of the Republican Party in the House brought us to this cliff. I hope as we approach more so-called 'cliffs' in the near future, that we won't see as many theatrics in Congress," Rahall said on the MetroNews "Talkline" show on Wednesday morning.
"We need to have additional revenue through tax reform," Rahall added. "I didn't say more taxes. We need to be closing major loopholes and ... look to giveaways to big oil companies at a time when they are making record profits."
Rahall said he believes "we are making progress in deficit reduction" and praised the new legislation for extending "unemployment benefits for those who have lost their jobs, child-care tax credits, unearned income credits and research tax credits."
Despite the overwhelming bipartisan support for the measure in the Senate, the "fiscal cliff" bill divided Republicans in the House, where Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, voted for it, but some of his top deputies did not.
Capito said she voted against the bill because it did little to control federal government spending.
"We never got to vote on whether we were going to allow the [tax] rates to go up for people making over $1 million. I would have voted yes on that. But I want to see tax reform," she said on "Talkline."
The bill that passed, Capito said, also contains benefits for special interest groups like green-energy companies, Hollywood movie producers and rum producers.
Capito also questioned passing a complicated bill "in the middle of the night. We will not know for another week what was in the bill that passed at 2:30 in the morning.... It is hard to read."
She hopes members of Congress will "find a common ground. I think Vice President Joe Biden wanted that when he came in" to talk to members of Congress.
"I can't believe I am thinking Joe Biden is the savior here. But maybe that is what it is."
McKinley said, "Simply put, the Senate version of the bill raises taxes, increases spending and only promises potential spending cuts in the future.
"It failed to address our long-term debt problem and is anything but the balanced approach promised by President Obama. America is now more than $16 trillion in debt. And Congress has failed in the past to cut spending that it promised the public," McKinley said in a statement he released on Tuesday.
But in a statement on Tuesday before the House passed the bill, Rockefeller said passing the bill was "the right thing."
"This deal is by no means perfect, but it fully protects middle class tax cuts, reinstates Clinton-era tax rates for the very wealthy, and extends several tax credits that are crucial to low-income families throughout West Virginia," Rockefeller said. "Through these strong actions, we can begin to close the historic income divide that has plagued our nation for decades.
Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjny...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.