It was one of the toughest votes they've had to cast in their congressional careers. But here's why 85 House Republicans broke with most of their GOP colleagues -- and decades of anti-tax orthodoxy -- to back President Barack Obama's tax hike bill:
Their districts are conservative -- but not so conservative that jumping off the fiscal cliff wouldn't potentially backfire in the next election. A general-election challenge from the left is a bigger threat than a primary from the right. And being able to tell most of their constituents they shielded them from a big tax hike was more important than being accused by a vocal few of selling out Republican principles.
"The ability to go home and say, 'We found a solution, no matter how messy it may be,' is an asset to them," said Brian Walsh, former political director of the National Republican Congressional Committee. "It's because of the types of districts they come from."
"The list of 'yes' votes is filled with moderates -- those folks largely focused on the general election in 2014," Walsh added.
Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Kelly, who occupies a seat in the western part of the state, said supporting the package -- as unpalatable as it was for the Republican faithful -- was far more palatable than veering off the cliff.
"The people that I caucus with said, 'This is what I have to do for the people I represent,'" Kelly said. "At the end of the day, you do what you think is best."
There were other factors at play among the 85: Many have been in Congress long enough to know an era when deal making wasn't taboo. They wanted to support their leader, Speaker John Boehner, when he needed it most. Among the supporters were six of the 13 Republicans in Boehner's home-state delegation of Ohio.
Then there were the handful of defeated or retiring Republicans -- liberated from the pressures of reelection and free to end their time in Congress knowing they'd done their part to head off a potential recession.
Those political pressures deeply divided the House Republican majority. While 85 GOP members voted yes, they were outnumbered almost 2 to 1: 151 Republicans voted against the deal, most of them from deeply conservative districts where a vote for any tax increase -- particularly one backed by a reviled White House -- amounts to flirting with political suicide.
While Republicans from moderate areas sought to protect their left flank, tea party members voted overwhelmingly against the compromise. Fifty-two of the 59 members of the Tea Party Caucus opposed it. What keeps them awake most is a 2014 primary opponent who could have used a 'yes' vote to accuse them of selling out the dearest of Republican principles.
The biggest dividing line within the GOP Conference was geography. Republicans in the moderate Northeastern and mid-Atlantic regions overwhelmingly supported the bill. Five of six Republicans from New York backed it, while all 11 members from Pennsylvania gave their support.
For most of these members, the vote reflected a political reality polar opposite to that of their tea party counterparts. The biggest threat they face in the next election is likely to come from the left in a general election -- as opposed to the right in a primary -- against an opponent who would have attacked a 'no' vote as a sign of intransigence.
Some Republicans who backed the bill hadn't always been on board, however. Lawmakers described a tense few hours between Boehner's mid-afternoon statement reporting "universal" discontent among House Republicans over the Senate bill and the final vote just before 11 p.m. They were up in arms about the lack of spending cuts in the measure -- and conservative outlets like the Drudge Report blasted the lopsided ratio of tax hikes to cuts.
In a Tuesday meeting, one member said, Boehner presented his conference with a simple proposition. If it chose to oppose the compromise, taxes would go up for everyone. If the members supported it, they would prevent taxes from going up on all but a tiny sliver of Americans.
For some Republican veterans of the House, backing the package had less to do with fear of reelection than their experience extending beyond the current era of gridlock. The list of 85 GOP backers included more than a dozen battle-hardened incoming committee chairmen.
Others found that, without having to run for reelection in 2014, they were free to support the compromise without fear of political consequences. Fourteen of the 38 House Republicans who won't be returning in the 113th Congress voted in favor.
For others, backing the final package was partly about showing support for Boehner, who found himself under mounting pressure in the final days of the negotiations.
Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, a former NRCC chairman who supported the compromise, disputed the idea that the vote exposed a rift within the conference.
"I don't think there is a divide in terms of philosophy. The party is uniformly conservative, but the gap is between pragmatists and ideologues. Pragmatists say, 'What is the best deal we can get?'" Cole said.
To other Republicans, however, the split vote is a worrisome sign for the party as it prepares for looming congressional showdowns over sequestration and the debt ceiling.
"I think what's going to happen is that if they don't come together and work as a team," said former Virginia Rep. Tom Davis, a past NRCC chairman, "they are going to be sliced and diced."
For Democrats, who carried most of the burden for passing the compromise bill, unity was far easier to achieve: Of the 178 members who voted on the bill, just 16 cast 'no' votes.
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