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Reading the Tea Leaves for 2014 and Beyond in Cliff Vote

Candidates are lining up to run for Capito's House seat. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Candidates are lining up to run for Capito's House seat. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Late-night votes on the fiscal cliff package capped off New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day this week — and delivered the first politically significant vote of the 2014 cycle.

That’s especially true for House Republicans fearful of possible primary challenges this cycle. A host of conservative organizations, including the Club for Growth and Family Research Council, encouraged Republicans to vote against the deal that raised taxes on wealthy Americans and made the Bush-era tax cuts permanent. The House passed the fiscal cliff bill with bipartisan support, but the majority of House Republicans voted against it.

To be sure, this bill probably will not cost members as much politically as, for example, votes for the Troubled Asset Relief Program in 2008 or the president’s health care overhaul in 2010. Still, it’s the first major vote of the 2014 cycle, and politicians looking for a promotion took note:


  • Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., became the first member to launch a 2014 Senate bid. Hours after her November announcement, the Club for Growth blasted her votes to raise the debt ceiling and approve the auto bailout — although conservatives have yet to find a viable challenger to run against her in the primary. Capito, who has been viewed as a GOP moderate since her election to Congress in 2000, voted against the fiscal cliff deal, calling it “an unbalanced bill that includes no substantial reductions.” Club President Chris Chocola applauded her “no” vote this week. “It was the right vote,” said Chocola, a former Indiana congressman. “Hopefully she’s thinking about these things in a pro-growth agenda [way], and that’s good.”
  • Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., voted for the fiscal cliff package, characterizing it as an effort to stop a tax increase in a statement. The conservative joined her small delegation to approve the bill — including, perhaps, her future opponent, Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D. Noem has not ruled out a Senate bid yet, even though popular former Gov. Mike Rounds, a Republican, announced his campaign late last year. Republicans suspect Noem’s vote is a sign she wants to move up the House GOP leadership ladder instead of running for Senate.
  • Republicans talk up Rep. John Kline as a possible challenger to Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., next year. His spokesman told CQ Roll Call that he “continues to keep all options on the table” for 2014.  Kline, the House Education and the Workforce Committee chairman, voted in favor of  the fiscal cliff package.


  • Rep. Gary G. Miller, R-Calif., begins the 2014 cycle as House Democrats’ top target. He won re-election in a redrawn, Democratic district the president carried with 57 percent. But Miller spent most of his seven terms as a reliable Republican vote. He last scored a high 96 rating with the American Conservative Union — which opposed the fiscal cliff bill as passed — two years ago. But this week, he voted with Democrats for the fiscal cliff package.
  • Blue Dogs are often among the first to break ranks with Democrats on bills they deem not fiscally conservative enough. Six returning Blue Dog members voted no on the bill: Reps. Jim Cooper of Tennessee, John Barrow of Georgia, Jim Matheson of Utah, Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota, and Kurt Schrader of Oregon. About half of the Blue Dogs who aren’t returning — and therefore don’t face political repercussions — voted for the bill.

2016 Presidential

  • Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., cast the most interesting — and obvious — vote of his chamber on the fiscal cliff package. He joined just four of his Senate GOP colleagues in opposing the bill. The vote puts him on his party’s right side years ahead of 2016, when he is widely expended to run for president.
  • In a move that surprised many Republicans, Capitol Hill’s other most often mentioned 2016 candidate, Rep. Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., voted for the bill. “The Ryan vote is interesting,” Chocola added. “It would have been easy for him to vote no. If he was thinking about running for president, it might have been an easier vote to defend.”

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