The Times West Virginian

Headline News

December 31, 2012

Leaders offer dour take on ‘fiscal cliff’

Senate negotiators’ assessment comes barely 24 hours before deadline

WASHINGTON — The top Senate negotiators on the effort to prevent the government from going over the “fiscal cliff” offered a pessimistic assessment Sunday barely 24 hours before a deadline to avert tax hikes on virtually every worker.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said he’s yet to receive a response to an offer he made on Saturday evening to Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., the top Democratic negotiator. The Kentucky Republican said he’s reached out to Vice President Joe Biden in hopes of breaking the impasse.

Despite indications of progress in the negotiations, Democrats said Republicans were proposing to slow future cost of living increases for Social Security recipients as part of a compromise to avoid the cliff. Democrats rejected the idea. Republicans declined to confirm the assertion — and one GOP official disputed it — but noted that President Barack Obama said in a television interview broadcast earlier in the day he had advanced such a proposal in earlier talks with Republicans.

“I’m concerned with the lack of urgency here. There’s far too much at stake,” McConnell said. “There is no single issue that remains an impossible sticking point — the sticking point appears to be a willingness, an interest or courage to close the deal.”

Reid said he has been trying to come up with a counteroffer but has been unable to do so. He said he’s been in frequent contact with Obama, who in a televised interview blamed Republicans for putting the nation’s shaky economy at risk.

“We have been talking to the Republicans ever since the election was over,” Obama said in the interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that aired Sunday. “They have had trouble saying yes to a number of repeated offers.”

The pessimistic turn came as the House and Senate returned to the Capitol for a rare Sunday session. The fate of the negotiations remained in doubt, two days before the beginning of a new year that would trigger across-the-board tax increases and spending cuts that leaders in both parties have said they want to avoid.

Reid said he is not “overly optimistic but I am cautiously optimistic” but reiterated that any agreement would not include the less generous inflation adjustment for Social Security.

“We’re willing to make difficult concessions as part of a balanced, comprehensive agreement, but we’ll not agree to cut Social Security benefits as part of a small or short-term agreement,” Reid said.

McConnell and Reid were hoping for a deal that would prevent higher taxes for most Americans while letting rates rise at higher income levels, although the precise point at which that would occur was a major sticking point.

Also at issue were the estate tax, taxes on investment income and dividends, continued benefits for the long-term unemployed and a pending 27.5 percent cut in payment levels for doctors who treat Medicare patients.

As the Senate opened a rare Sunday session, Chaplain Barry Black offered a timely prayer for lawmakers.

“Lord, show them the right thing to do and give them the courage to do it,” Black said. “Look with favor on our nation and save us from self-inflicted wounds.”

Senate negotiators were haggling over what threshold of income to set as the demarcation between current tax rates and higher tax rates. They were negotiating over estate limits and tax levels, how to extend unemployment benefits, how to prevent cuts in Medicare payments to doctors and how to keep a minimum income tax payment designed for the rich from hitting about 28 million middle-class taxpayers.

Hopes for blocking across-the-board spending cuts were fading and Obama’s proposal to renew the two percentage point payroll tax cut wasn’t even part of the discussion.  

Obama pressed lawmakers to start where both sides say they agree — sparing middle-class families from looming tax hikes.

“If we can get that done, that takes a big bite out of the fiscal cliff. It avoids the worst outcomes. And we’re then going to have some tough negotiations in terms of how we continue to reduce the deficit, grow the economy, create jobs,” Obama said in the NBC interview.

Gone, however, is the talk of a grand deal that would tackle broad spending and revenue demands and set the nation on a course to lower deficits. Obama and Republican House Speaker John Boehner were once a couple hundred billion dollars apart of a deal that would have reduced the deficit by more than $2 trillion over 10 years.

Republicans have complained that Obama has demanded too much in tax revenue and hasn’t proposed sufficient cuts or savings in the nation’s massive health care programs.

Obama upped the pressure on Republicans to negotiate a fiscal deal, arguing that GOP leaders have rejected his past attempts to strike a bigger and more comprehensive bargain.

“The offers that I’ve made to them have been so fair that a lot of Democrats get mad at me,” Obama said.

Boehner disagreed, saying Sunday that the president had been unwilling to agree to anything “that would require him to stand up to his own party.”

Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell, said Sunday: “While the president was taping those discordant remarks yesterday, Sen. McConnell was in the office working to bring Republicans and Democrats together on a solution.”

The trimmed ambitions of Sunday were a far cry from the upbeat bipartisan rhetoric of just six weeks ago, when the leadership of Congress went to the White House to set the stage for negotiations to come.

“I outlined a framework that deals with reforming our tax code and reforming our spending,” Boehner said as the leaders gathered on the White House driveway on Nov. 16.

“We understand that it has to be about cuts, it has to be about revenue, it has to be about growth, it has to be about the future,” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said at the time. “I feel confident that a solution may be in sight.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said the 2.1 million Americans whose extended unemployment benefits ran out on Saturday are already feeling the pain of Congress’ inaction.

“From this point on, it’s lose-lose. My big worry is a contraction of the economy, the loss of jobs, which could be well over 2 million in addition to the people already on unemployment. I think contraction of the economy would be just terrible for this nation. I think we need a deal; we should do a deal,” Feinstein said on “Fox News Sunday.”  

But the deal was not meant to settle other outstanding issues, including more than $1 trillion in cuts over 10 years, divided equally between the Pentagon and other government spending. The deal also would not address an extension of the nation’s borrowing limit, which the government is on track to reach any day but which the Treasury can put off through accounting measures for about two months.

That means Obama and the Congress are already on a new collision path. Republicans say they intend to use the debt ceiling as leverage to extract more spending cuts from the president. Obama has been adamant that unlike 2011, when the country came close to defaulting on its debts, he will not yield to those Republican demands.

Lawmakers have until the new Congress convenes to pass any compromise, and even the calendar mattered. Democrats said they had been told House Republicans might reject a deal until after Jan. 1, to avoid a vote to raise taxes before they had technically gone up, and then vote to cut taxes after they had risen.

1
Text Only
Headline News
  • Obama voices skepticism on Russia in Ukraine

    President Barack Obama conveyed skepticism Thursday about Russian promises to de-escalate a volatile situation in Ukraine, and said the United State and its allies are ready to impose fresh sanctions if Moscow doesn’t make good on its commitments.

    April 18, 2014

  • President defending health-care law good for some Democrats

    President Barack Obama’s full-throated defense of his health-care overhaul seems perfectly timed for Democrats who want their party to embrace the law more enthusiastically.
    At a White House news conference Thursday, Obama noted that health insurance enrollments under the new law are higher than expected, and costs are lower.

    April 18, 2014

  • Deal reached on calming Ukraine tensions — for now

    In a surprise accord, Ukraine and Russia agreed Thursday on tentative steps to halt violence and calm tensions along their shared border after more than a month of Cold War-style military posturing triggered by Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.

    April 18, 2014

  • Boston Marathon organizers confident of safe race

    The arrest of a man with a rice cooker in his backpack near the Boston Marathon finish line led police to step up patrols Wednesday, while organizers sought to assure the city and runners of a safe race next week.
    The actions of the man, whose mother said he had a mental disorder, rattled nerves as Boston prepared for the annual race, but authorities said they did not consider it a security breach.

    April 17, 2014

  • Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 12.51.22 PM.png VIDEO: Toddler climbs into vending machine

    A child is safe after climbing into and getting stuck inside a claw crane machine at a Lincoln, Neb., bowling alley Monday.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Solemn tributes mark Boston Marathon bombing anniversary

    Survivors, first responders and relatives of those killed in the Boston Marathon bombing marked the anniversary Tuesday with tributes that combined sorrow over the loss of innocent victims with pride over the city’s resilience in the face of a terror attack.

    April 16, 2014

  • Questions linger year after Boston Marathon bombs

    A surveillance video shows a man prosecutors say is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev placing a bomb near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, just yards from where an 8-year-old boy was killed when it exploded.

    April 15, 2014

  • Little sign of progress as Obama, Putin speak

    Speaking for the first time in more than two weeks, President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin showed little sign of agreement Monday, with the U.S. leader urging pro-Russian forces to de-escalate the situation in eastern Ukraine and Putin denying that Moscow was interfering in the region.

    April 15, 2014

  • 3 dead after suburban Kansas City shooting

    A man opened fire outside a Jewish community center on Sunday, killing two people before driving over to a retirement community a few blocks away and killing someone else, authorities said.

    April 14, 2014

  • Couple: Truck was on fire before deadly bus crash

    A couple said a FedEx tractor-trailer was already on fire when it careened across a median, sideswiped their car and slammed into a bus carrying high school students, adding a new twist to the investigation of a crash that killed 10 people.
    Initial reports by police indicated the truck swerved to avoid a sedan that was traveling in the same direction in this town about 100 miles north of Sacramento, then went across the median. There was no mention of the truck being on fire.

    April 13, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads