CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. -- Saying the deal that increases taxes on the highest earners to avert the full force of the so-called "fiscal cliff" was "the best that we could have ever hoped for," Rep. Jo Ann Emerson defended her "yes" vote Wednesday, a day after the House passed the deal that also kept tax rates down for most earners.
President Barack Obama signed the measure Wednesday evening in Honolulu where he is vacationing with his family.
With a deadlocked Congress, Emerson said the chance to permanently keep the estate tax down -- a priority for some rural lawmakers because of its effects on farm families -- and keep income taxes down for almost all American households was too good to turn away, especially with the alternative of increased income taxes for all households combined with the sharp budget cuts of sequestration.
"This is the only time in at least the next two years we're going to get the administration to go along with the permanency of these cuts," Emerson said.
To do so, she had to go against her own no-tax-increase pledge, saying those pledges sometimes expire "just like milk." More Republicans would have voted for the legislation if they weren't afraid of challenges in their party's primaries next election cycle, said Emerson, who is leaving Congress in the next few weeks to take a private-sector job representing electric cooperatives.
The cuts -- a reversion to tax rates passed early in the Bush administration that expired at midnight New Year's Eve -- are expected to raise $600 billion in revenue during the next 10 years by increasing taxes on those with incomes higher than $400,000.
Missouri's representatives in the House were split on the vote, with 9th District Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer joining Emerson as the only two Republicans out of five representing parts of Missouri to vote for the legislation. The House vote was 257-167.
Both Missouri senators, Democrat Claire McCaskill and Republican Roy Blunt, voted for the deal. The Senate passed the legislation 89-8. McCaskill and Blunt cited the need to keep tax increases from hitting the middle class in justifying their votes.
"We had a chance to stop the biggest tax increase in the history of the American economy, and we did," Blunt said. He also pointed out that, despite dodging increases in income taxes, a reduction on payroll taxes that helped fund Social Security was allowed to expire.
Blunt said the payroll tax reduction shouldn't have been part of the deal, since that money is used to fund Social Security.
The roll-call vote was barely recorded when conservatives began to blast Emerson and other House Republicans who voted yes.
Local tea party organizer Brian Bollmann took issue as much with the vote as with how it was done, with both chambers voting after the calendar turned to 2013, technically allowing the tax cuts to expire, then reinstating them for most Americans.
"It was kind of a foregone conclusion that they're going to let this go up until the final hour and let the actual tax rates expire ... and that they could come in riding on a white horse and not raise taxes and say 'we gave you a tax cut,'" Bollmann said.
Bollmann said with the "current breed of congresspeople and president" he's not optimistic significant budget cuts, which Republicans pledge to pursue as debates regarding the debt ceiling and continuing budget resolution come up, actually will happen.
But Emerson and Blunt said they believe Republicans in both chambers have the leverage they need to enact significant budget cuts.