Ask anyone about President Obama and Congress being unwilling to cut a deal in order to avoid the fiscal cliff, and you get another question: “Why can’t they compromise and get something done?”
Then, there are the public opinion polls on Congress. A recent CBS poll showed only 11 percent of those surveyed approve of the work Congress is doing. Its disapproval rating hit a whopping 81 percent. The best congressional rating of five polls listed by Real Clear Politics was a 23 percent approval rating in an AP/GfK poll. The disapproval rating was 74 percent.
OK, most of us don’t think much of Congress. Have we forgotten how those men and women got there? We elected them. So we have mostly ourselves or voters in other states to blame.
The fiscal cliff refers to those big tax increases and budget cuts that are coming in January if a settlement isn’t reached. The two sides came close, but a deal fell through at the last minute.
Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, came up with a compromise called Plan B. In it, he agreed to go along with higher taxes for anyone making over $1 million a year. President Obama had said he wanted higher taxes for everyone making over $250,000, but agreed to raise that to people making over $400,000. Chris Frates in a National Journal article said there was a strategy at work in those compromises offered by both sides.
“... The plan appeared designed to move Obama toward the speaker’s position of smaller tax increases and larger spending cuts while helping conservatives wrap their heads around the idea of voting for a tax hike,” Frates said.
The deal collapsed for two reasons. Democrats in the Senate said they would reject Boehner’s Plan B, and House conservatives told Boehner they wouldn’t go along with taxing anyone.
A look at how some in Louisiana’s House congressional delegation felt about all of this shows why compromise is so difficult. The Advocate earlier this month talked to the individual congressmen.
U.S. Reps. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, and John Fleming, R-Minden, told the newspaper they won’t support any plan that raises taxes on anybody. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, wasn’t sure how he would vote, but said he is concerned about tax increases. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, indicated he is open to compromise. Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman wasn’t specific, but said, “The worst thing that Congress can do in this case is nothing.”
The Philadelphia Enquirer in a Friday editorial said some 50 Republicans appear to be blocking what a majority of members would likely approve. The newspaper said that is just under 10 percent of the House membership.
... That veto by a tiny minority is not the way a representative democracy is supposed to work,” the Enquirer said.
Hopes for an agreement were riding on a Friday afternoon meeting between Obama and congressional leaders from both major political parties. A number of possibilities were on the table, but nothing can officially get done until the House convenes later today.
The Associated Press talked about one of the alternatives. It reported that Republicans and Democrats it talked to privately said any agreement would likely include an extension of middle-class tax cuts with increased rates at upper incomes. A deal would also put off scheduled budget cuts. The AP said year-end legislation could also include an extension of unemployment benefits that are expiring, relief for doctors who face reductions in Medicare payments and a farm bill compromise that would prevent a steep rise in the price of milk.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., wasn’t as optimistic. He talked about “the worst-case scenario” that would result in “kicking the can” down the road.
“We’ll do some small deal and we’ll create another fiscal cliff to deal with the fiscal cliff,” Corker said.
The third possibility is that nothing will get done. It would then be up to the new Congress taking office in January to try and reach an agreement. There will be 13 new senators and 82 new House members.
The AP said there might still be time to do something in January by simply delaying the pending tax increases and budget cuts that make up the fiscal cliff until a permanent solution is found. However, another delay might also set off what economists call serious consequences affecting the stock market and consumer confidence.
Waiting in the wings is another problem. The nation’s debt limit of $16.4 trillion will be reached in February or March. Raising the ceiling will be another contentious issue, and the debt and fiscal cliff are closely linked. Solve one problem and you start fixing the other.
All of this takes us back to the question most Americans are asking: “Why can’t they compromise and get something done?”
Unfortunately, too many members of Congress don’t have the nation’s best interests at heart. A sizable number of them are more concerned about their own political futures. Part of that is our fault. We sent them there.
• • •Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or firstname.lastname@example.org