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Thursday, October 23, 2014
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Editorial: Congress presents us with another mystery

Last Modified: Wednesday, January 02, 2013 7:05 PM

American taxpayers — that includes us, Louisianians — were left this week to ponder the long-term effects of “fiscal cliff” legislation passed in Washington. It may be a long time before we get real answers.

The past-the-deadline vote was greeted by plenty of posturing from both parties. In general, Democrats claim victory. Those Republicans who joined them by voting in favor mostly say things might have been worse.

The poor may have caught a few breaks in this deal. Unemployment benefits will continue. Low-pay Americans will get better income tax credits. Taxpayers may claim more credits for paying college tuition.

The military may avoid cuts, at least for a while. The rest? Well, who knows.

Consider that our congressional delegation, for the most part, opposed this fix. Reps. Charles Boustany, Bill Cassidy, John Fleming, Jeff Landry and Steve Scalise voted it down, criticizing it at turns as being overly reliant on tax increases and not on spending cuts to reduce the federal deficit.

“Last night, Washington voted to raise income tax rates for the first time in over two decades. ... This legislation is comprised mainly of tax increases,” Boustany said in a prepared statement released Wednesday.

Did someone say tax “increases?” Well, not according to Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman.

“What we were voting on was the largest tax decrease in the history of the nation,” he said. “What we did was lowered taxes for 98 percent of the American public, and we made them permanent.”

Oh.

Small wonder that Congress labored so mightily to compromise on legislation. They still can’t agree if this was a tax increase or decrease.

That sense of lowering taxes permanently, though, held powerful appeal to Sen. David Vitter, R-La., who joined his Senate colleague, Mary Landrieu, D-La., in voting for the package.

“This is a much better tax outcome under (President) Obama than I would have guessed,” Vitter said. “It preserves the Bush tax cuts for 99 percent of Americans, with good policy on the death tax, dividends and capital gains. ... Just as importantly, it makes it all permanent, which we could never do before.”

But what does permanent mean in Washington, except waiting on the next “crisis” or the next vote. Only taxes and our national debt appear to be permanent.

And while proponents talk about a tax cut, a payroll tax reduction for Social Security did not make the cut. That means the average taxpayer may pay a thousand dollars more in 2013.

What Congress has granted us is a new mystery, that can only be unraveled in time. Coming soon: putting health reform into effect.

• • •

This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.

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