WASHINGTON — Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, atypically crossed party lines this week when he joined a majority of House Democrats in supporting the tax package designed to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff.
In an intriguing split from most of his House GOP colleagues, Denham provided one of the crucial votes needed to pass the high-stakes legislation. Denham, who is being sworn in for his second House term today, called the bill approved by a 257-167 margin an overall good deal for his district.
"The certainty was the big issue overall, in making these tax cuts permanent," Denham said in an interview Wednesday.
The bill raises taxes for individuals making more than $400,000 annually and families making more than $450,000. For everyone else, tax rates will remain at the same level as set by the so-called Bush tax cuts in 2001. The bill also permanently fixes a long-festering problem with the alternative minimum tax that threatened middle-class families.
If the bill hadn't passed, taxes would essentially have been raised on everyone.
"I didn't feel like it was fair for the huge tax increases to take place," Denham said, adding that "there were a lot of really good things in (the bill), though it certainly didn't go as far as I thought it should."
Denham's move on the biggest bill of the year stood out, in part, because of his customary GOP voting pattern. He sided with a majority of his fellow House Republicans 97 percent of the time in 2011, according a National Journal analysis.
All told, 85 House Republicans voted for the tax package late Tuesday night and 151 voted against it. The nay-sayers included House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, an ally of Denham's. Denham is a member of McCarthy's extended whip leadership team.
Among other San Joaquin Valley lawmakers, Democratic Reps. Jim Costa of Fresno and Jerry McNerney of Stockton voted for the bill, and Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, joined McCarthy in opposing it. Rep. Tom McClintock, a Roseville Republican whose mountainous new congressional district includes Calaveras, Tuolumne, Mariposa and Madera counties, likewise opposed the bill.
"Taxes will now increase on those individuals who earn over $400,000 per year, a great victory for the president's eat-the-rich ideological crusade," McClintock said Wednesday. "But a lot of those wealthy folks aren't even folks: they're 850,000 struggling small businesses."
McClintock and Denham, though they voted differently, agreed that the bill should have included spending cuts as well as tax provisions, with McClintock saying that the failure to include cuts "turned the bill's tax relief provisions into a mere illusion."
Other measures included in the bill range from an extension of jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed and avoiding a cut in Medicare payments to doctors.
In addition to setting tax policy, the 154-page bill extends the current farm bill through Sept. 30. The extension was necessary because House Republicans had failed to pass a regular farm bill this year, sowing confusion among farmers and raising the prospect of archaic dairy price supports kicking in.
"We're going to have the next nine months to review current farm policy," said Denham, a newly named member of the House Agriculture Committee.
Ten other House Republicans from California also voted for the fiscal-cliff legislation, but six of them are leaving office due to either retirement or a re-election loss and so need not fear the potential wrath of conservative Republican primary voters.