The trouble with praising the 85 House Republicans who voted for the fiscal cliff deal is that you’re saying they should be reelected. You’re making an argument that, if you want moderate policy outcomes, you can get them by reelecting these Republicans.
In reality, you can’t get moderate policy outcomes by reelecting these Republicans. The fiscal cliff vote was actually an anomaly – an exception to the Hastert Rule that ordinarily prevails in the House.
Matt Yglesias explains how this works:
The House operates on the “majority of the majority” principle, aka the Hastert Rule, that the Speaker only moves legislation to the floor if most of the members of his or her caucus support it. So even if Nancy Pelosi’s majority in 2007 rested on members with pro-gun or socially conservative views, pro-gun or socially conservative legislation still couldn’t pass because House Democrats wouldn’t allow it to come for a vote. While the Senate is largely run by its pivotal members, the House is essentially run as a party cartel—by the leaders of the majority party on behalf of the views of the majority party.
Since the House usually only brings up bills backed by a majority of the majority Party, the more left wing Republicans are very rarely going to enter into voting coalitions with Democrats.
The actual choice before you when selecting a House member is, “do I want the President to have to negotiate with the median House Republican or the median House Democrat?”
Or even simpler, “do I want John Boehner or Nancy Pelosi to be the Speaker?”
House races too often get fought over details like the personal qualities of candidates or local district issues that are mostly irrelevant to how the House of Representatives actually works.