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Fiscal cliff: Why did Democratic Senator Michael Bennet vote against Obama's deal?

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On Tuesday, at 12:29 a.m., just as Colorado began celebrating the New Year, Senator Michael Bennet's staff released a statement explaining why, in a break from his Democratic colleagues and the president, he voted against the plan to avert the fiscal cliff. The decision made him one of only eight senators to vote "no" (versus 89 who voted "yes") -- and has since has gotten Bennet a lot of attention.

"Washington once again has lived up to its reputation as the 'Land of Flickering Lights,'" he wrote. "For four years in my townhall meetings across the state Coloradans have told me they want a plan that materially reduces the deficit. This proposal does not meet that standard and does not put in place a real process to reduce the debt down the road. While I do support many of the items in this proposal -- for example, extending unemployment insurance, the wind production tax credit and tax cuts for most Americans -- I believe they should have come in the context of a comprehensive deficit reduction package. Without a serious mechanism to reduce the debt, I cannot support this bill."

The deal to avoid the fiscal cliff maintains tax cuts for many Americans but increases rates on the wealthy. After passing overwhelmingly in the Senate, it got through the House too, with yes votes from prominent Republicans including House Speaker John Boehner and former candidate for Vice President Paul Ryan.

That means that those high-ranking GOP officials supported a measure that Bennet, a junior senator and a Democrat, did not.

For this reason, Bennet was the subject of a New York Times column from Maureen Dowd, titled, "The Man Who Said 'Nay.'" In it, Dowd notes that Bennet was surprised that the vote margin was so wide.

But, as his statement suggested, concern over the deficit seemed to be enough reason for Bennet to vote in favor of going over the fiscal cliff.

And as the Denver Post notes, Bennet's no vote comes just a month after he began running the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, a party fundraising arm.

His stance was also not aligned with Senator Mark Udall, whose staff released a 1:45 a.m. statement on January 1, praising the passage of the deal for its one-year extension of the Wind Production Tax Credit and the lack of middle class tax raises. Udall has been very vocal about the importance of extending the wind tax credit, arguing that thousands of jobs in Colorado depend on it. Udall praised the successful agreement as a bipartisan one, but said it was not a perfect deal and, like Bennet, also criticized the process in Washington, D.C. His statement says:

This deal isn't perfect, and I agree with most Coloradans who dislike that Washington is making deals on the cliff's edge. But I do believe we needed to keep taxes low for the middle class and ensure that working families and seniors will not be hurt in 2013.... This is not the deal I would have written, but we cannot ignore the need to protect taxpayers, businesses and our fragile economy from the destructive effects of the fiscal cliff. When Congress reconvenes in 2013, I will continue to push for a bipartisan deal on the deficit that grows our economy and responsibly reforms the federal government.

The question going forward is how much fallout Bennet could potentially face from this surprising vote. Westword left a message for Bennet today to see if he had any new comments on the issue. We will update this blog if we hear back from him.

More from our Politics archive: "Rep. Lois Court: Fees for gun background checks could help fund mental health services"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.

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