Friday, December 21, 2012

U.S. Rep. Ron Barber on Fiscal-Cliff Follies: "My Constituents Are Fed Up With This Nonsense and So Am I"

Posted By on Fri, Dec 21, 2012 at 9:28 AM

Congressman Ron Barber fired off a press release blasting House leaders for leaving Washington yesterday without resolving the fiscal-cliff showdown following the spectacular failure of House Speaker John Boehner's "Plan B":

U.S. Rep. Ron Barber today criticized leaders of the House of Representatives for leaving the Capitol for the holidays without addressing the impending fiscal cliff—now less than two weeks away.

“We must stop this political gamesmanship and get serious about reaching a bipartisan agreement that will set us on the path to long-term deficit reduction,” Barber added. “House leaders spent most of the week wasting time and further damaging the American people’s trust instead of coming up with a real proposal. My constituents are fed up with this nonsense and so am I.”

The House left Washington this evening less than two weeks before the nation is scheduled to go over the “fiscal cliff.” That is the term given to a series of tax cuts scheduled to expire and deep budget cuts that will be imposed Jan. 2, unless Congress and the president reach agreement.

Barber opposed the Spending Reduction Act of 2012 today. The same bill, which slashes funding for several domestic programs, and would impose steep cuts on Medicare, failed the House in May with many Republicans opposed. Today it passed 215-to-209 with 21 Republicans and all 188 Democrats opposed. The Senate has said it will not consider the bill.

On Jan. 2, across-the-board, automatic spending cuts known as sequestration are scheduled take effect. That would impose $1.2 trillion in cuts — about half from the military and half from domestic programs including infrastructure, education, health care and public safety.

The Spending Reduction Act of 2012 would mean steep reductions in food assistance and school lunch programs, further cuts to the child tax credit and health care for kids, and eliminated funding for services for seniors and people with disabilities.

“We must stop this posturing and come to an immediate solution to extend the income tax cuts for the middle class and small businesses and stop sequestration,” Barber said today. “And we must have a balanced and bipartisan approach. That is the only way that we can create jobs, continue our economic recovery and address the deficit and restore faith that we can find common ground to get the nation’s financial house in order.”

Talking Points Memo's Brian Beutler looks at what happens next:

Boehner has two problems: one with President Obama and another with his conference. And to the extent that he meliorates one he exacerbates the other. He can return to fiscal cliff negotiations with an empowered Obama, and try to eke out the sort of deal he just rejected, then pass it through the House next week, on a bipartisan basis at but a huge risk to his Speakership.

That’s the course he told members he’d pursue in the conference meeting Thursday night.

And the White House is open to it. “The President’s main priority is to ensure that taxes don’t go up on 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of small businesses in just a few short days,” said Press Secretary Jay Carney. “The President will work with Congress to get this done and we are hopeful that we will be able to find a bipartisan solution quickly that protects the middle class and our economy.”

It sets up a scenario where Boehner’s old nemesis Nancy Pelosi is suddenly back in the driver’s seat, controlling the votes necessary to pass a deal.

But if a last ditch effort fails, or he chooses to rebuff Obama, he’ll set one of two unpredictable chains of events into motion.

He can still bring Senate-passed legislation to the floor, which would lock in the Bush tax cuts for income up to $250,000. That bill would face stiff resistance from many corners of his conference, but would likely pass with overwhelming Democratic support. it would leave unresolved issues like the sequester, Medicare physician reimbursement, expiring emergency unemployment benefits, annual appropriations, and the debt ceiling. And it would still leave him wounded leader, in a tough spot with his members.

Or he could turn toward the cliff, take the country over, try to breathe life back into his speakership, and grapple with the messy consequences next year.

New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait examines the political gamesmanship:

The point of Plan B was to fashion a parachute for Republicans for January. As it stands, if the new year arrives with no deal in place, Obama will have the upper hand. The full expiration of the Bush tax cuts will make the budget baseline more favorable, turning any change in taxes into a tax cut. And Obama, who is highly popular, will be able to attack Republicans, who are highly unpopular, for their insistence on keeping taxes low for the rich, which is highly unpopular, at the cost of raising taxes on the middle class, which is also highly unpopular.

Plan B was an attempt to give Republicans a talking point, a place to stand, as they endured the political pummeling Obama has in store for them. They would vote to preserve tax rates on all income under $1,000,000 a year, a measure that would spare millionaires themselves most of the coming tax hike, and give the government very little revenue. Then, the thinking went, the blame for the “fiscal cliff” would at least be more amorphous — Obama would blame Republicans, but Republicans would blame Democrats for not agreeing to their plan, which had passed the House.

Except now that it hasn’t passed the House, Republicans have no fallback.

Andrew Sullivan rounds up other reactions.

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