Editorial: Congress presents us with another mystery

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.

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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.