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U.S. Rep. Bob Latta’s fiscal-cliff vote on New Year’s Day has put him on the wrong side of the more conservative wing of his party.
But it’s way too early to know whether Mr. Latta will pay a political price for voting for a tax increase.
Mr. Latta, a Republican from Bowling Green, was one of six Ohio Republicans who voted for the bill to permanently cut taxes on incomes below $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for families, while letting the income tax rate on higher incomes rise from 35 percent to 39.6 percent.
The five Ohio Democrats in the Congress that just ended also voted for the bill, including Marcy Kaptur of Toledo, while seven Ohio Republicans, including Jim Jordan of Urbana, voted against the bill.
Mr. Latta was sworn in to a third term on Thursday after the election in November in which he soundly defeated a Democratic opponent, Angela Zimmann of Springfield Township, who criticized him as too conservative on fiscal and social issues for his 14-county district.
One national influential conservative group on economic issues, the Club for Growth, opposed the “fiscal cliff” vote as a tax increase with only a promise of future spending cuts and likely will hold it against any member of Congress who voted for it.
Club for Growth uses its scorecard to decide whether to campaign against Republican incumbents who rack up too moderate a voting record.
“It’s too early to say if there is an opponent for Congressman Latta, and the decision would be based on economic issues,” said Barney Keller, communications director for the group. “We don’t judge a candidate or member of Congress based on one vote.”
Mr. Keller said that Mr. Latta has a strong voting record from Club for Growth’s point of view — 91 percent in support of Club for Growth’s positions since he has been in Congress. That’s third-highest among the 13 Ohio Republicans in the Congress that just ended.
“A 91 percent score is certainly a strong record. And there would have to be a big difference in the candidates for us to get involved when dealing with an incumbent who has a 91 percent voting record,” Mr. Keller said.
In the 2007 special primary election, Club for Growth spent lavishly in a failed attempt to defeat Mr. Latta and win the GOP nomination for then-state Sen. Steve Buehrer (R., Delta).
“We’d like to think that Congressman Latta remembers that we were involved in this race and that our involvement has had some positive impact on his voting record,” Mr. Keller said.
Mr. Buehrer, who is administrator and chief executive officer of the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation, declined through a spokesman to comment.
Matt Reger, chairman of the Wood County Republican Party, said he doesn’t think the “fiscal cliff” vote will come back to haunt Mr. Latta.
“Bob Latta is a committed, well-known congressman in this area for being conservative. He was avoiding a huge tax increase on a lot of people,” Mr. Reger said, saying Mr. Latta had to make a “hard decision.”
State Republican Chairman Bob Bennett said Mr. Latta and the five other Ohio Republicans who supported the legislation will have opportunities to prove their conservative credentials.
“It’s one vote. I don’t think any of those guys will be in any trouble. Nobody’s happy with what happened. We kicked the can down the road again on spending,” Mr. Bennett said.
“The Republicans are going to come with some pretty strong measures. They only kicked the can down the road 60 days. I think Republicans have some leverage to get some spending cuts in there.”
Mr. Latta has defended his vote as necessary to fend off huge tax increases for the vast majority of Americans.
He supported House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) in voting for the bill that was viewed as a last-ditch measure to avert the so-called “fiscal cliff.”
Without the vote, tax increases would have gone into effect in every tax bracket and automatic spending cuts in military as well as discretionary programs would have begun taking effect.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern of Ottawa County said Mr. Latta’s vote makes him look like a progressive and is at odds with some of the votes he has taken, particularly in opposition to the taxpayer-funded rescue of the auto industry in 2009.
“Bob Latta supported a massive tax increase on the wealthiest among us,” Mr. Redfern said, noting that was President Obama’s position as well.
“I don’t know what his core convictions are, and I’m not sure the voters of his district know what his core convictions are. I would have spared his support on the ‘fiscal cliff’ and would have appreciated his support on the auto rescue,” Mr. Redfern said.
“Will he get a primary out of it? Who knows?”
David Cohen, a political science professor at the University of Akron, said Mr. Latta’s vote will hurt him among Tea Party groups, but noted that he will have the next two years to recover from any political damage.
“Latta will get many more chances to vote on similar high-profile legislation as Congress will be facing even more serious battles in the short term over the debt ceiling, sequestration, and pending expiration of the continuing resolution, which is keeping the federal government running in place of a budget,” Mr. Cohen said.
“As we move closer to next year’s primaries, GOP lawmakers will burnish their conservative credentials by taking a harder line approach on those votes,” Mr. Cohen predicted.
In a statement defending his vote, Mr. Latta said the law protects 26 million Americans from the Alternative Minimum Tax, keeps the inheritance tax exemption at $5 million, extends the farm bill, thus averting an increase in milk prices, and repeals pay raises for members of Congress and the White House staff.
Mr. Latta could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Contact Tom Troy at: email@example.com or 419-724-6058.