On the fiscal cliff, it's Marco Rubio vs. Paul Ryan.
Two of the GOP's top White House prospects for 2016 chose opposite sides in the fiscal cliff battle, as a deal to avoid automatic tax increases made its way through Congress and to the president's desk this week.
Big votes on taxes and spending tend to make fodder for presidential contests. If Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former VP candidate Rep. Paul Ryan run for president in 2016, their votes this week will almost certainly be aired during primary debates.
Rubio, R-Fla., voted against the deal along with seven other senators early Tuesday morning, acknowledging painstaking negotiations but warning that the deal would hurt the economy.
"I appreciate all the hard work that went into avoiding the so-called 'fiscal cliff'. I especially commend Senator McConnell's efforts to make the best out of a bad situation," Rubio said in a statement. "Nevertheless, I cannot support the arrangement they have arrived at. Rapid economic growth and spending reforms are the only way out of the real fiscal cliff our nation is facing. But rapid economic growth and job creation will be made more difficult under the deal reached here in Washington."
Rubio's main complaint: Raising taxes on individuals making more than $400,000 and couples making more than $450,000. Small businesses known as S corporations, file under the individual tax code, and business groups and conservative tax advocates have denounced any hike on individual rates as job-killing. Rubio agreed with them.
"Thousands of small businesses, not just the wealthy, will now be forced to decide how they'll pay this new tax and, chances are, they'll do it by firing employees, cutting back their hours and benefits, or postponing the new hire they were looking to make," Rubio said. "And to make matters worse, it does nothing to bring our dangerous debt under control."
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, on the other hand, sided against most of his Republican House colleagues and supported the bill.
House Republicans initially balked at the Senate-passed package, refusing to bring it to a vote. When Speaker John Boehner brought it to the floor Tuesday night, 151 of them voted against it, including many conservatives. Only 85 Republicans backed it, despite Boehner's endorsement.
Ryan was one of them. He explained his vote as a pragmatic move, one made in disappointment.
"Today, I joined my colleagues in the House to protect as many Americans as possible from a tax increase. We also provided certainty by making the lower tax rates permanent. The House has already passed legislation to prevent tax increases for every American family, and it is unfortunate that President Obama insisted on taking more from hardworking taxpayers," Ryan said of his vote in a statement.
"The American people chose divided government. As elected officials, we have a duty to apply our principles to the realities of governing," Ryan said. "Now, we must return our attention to the real problem: out-of-control spending."
Ryan's vote set off at least one catcall from a prominent conservative: "Thus ends the Paul Ryan 2016 Presidential Exploratory Committee," tweeted Erick Erickson, the influential Red State blogger and conservative commentator.
Along with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Rubio and Ryan are not only two of the GOP's most talked-about options for the presidential nomination in 2016, they're among the most charismatic--and fiscally conservative.
Ryan and Rubio are both Tea Party luminaries who have built their careers on fiscal restraint, low taxes and small government. Their votes on the fiscal cliff represent two different philosophies on how to get there: save as many taxpayers as you can from higher taxes, or refuse to approve tax hikes on anyone.