Rep. Blackburn downplays party split over ‘fiscal cliff’ tax bill

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) on Wednesday downplayed divisions within the Republican Party over the "fiscal cliff" tax bill, which passed late on Tuesday night. 

"We had a very spirited debate" as a conference, she acknowledged on CNN's "Starting Point." 

Only 85 House Republicans voted for the bill, which prevents a majority of expected tax hikes and delays the automatic spending cuts triggered by end-of-the-year "fiscal cliff" deadlines. 

The bill split the House GOP leadership, with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) voting in support and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) voting no. Another key leader, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), voted yes.

Many Republicans expressed dismay with the bill because it does not include significant spending cuts. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the deal will add $3.9 trillion to the deficit over the next decade.

But Blackburn described behind-the-scenes discussions as "healthy" and "respectful."  

"What the Speaker of the House, leadership did was let the House work its will," she said.

Following the vote, McCarthy had said the party leadership did not whip votes for the bill. "There were good reasons to vote for it and good reasons to vote against it," he said.

Previous attempts by House Republicans to resolve the "fiscal cliff" had failed, with legislation either dead on arrival in the Senate or, in the case of Boehner’s “Plan B” tax proposal last month, dropped after leaders could not win enough GOP support. 

The bill that passed on Tuesday night was the result of a deal brokered by Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and passed by the Senate early on New Year’s Day.

The measure extends indefinitely the expiring George W. Bush-era tax rates on annual family income up to $450,000, and for individuals up to a $400,000 cutoff. It also lifts the top capital gains and dividends rates to 20 percent, extends unemployment benefits for a year, and delays for two months the automatic spending cuts triggered by the sequestering process. Democrats widely supported the legislation after a personal appeal by Biden.

The tax deal, though, has set up further spending battles, with across-the-board cuts now slated to take effect in March and the president pushing for a debt-limit hike by late February. 

Blackburn pledged that with January’s tax hikes avoided, deficit reduction would be the focus of every House negotiation in the future. 

Republican members decided "we are done with kicking this can down the road. This will happen no more. We grabbed that can. And that can is called spending cuts," she said. "We are going to have very spirited, very thoughtful debates on cutting what this government wants to spend."