A new year, new Congress, old problems

Americans suffered a whole lot of anxiety in anticipation of congressional action to keep us from sliding off the much-feared fiscal cliff, only to see Congress take the utterly expected and truly unimaginative action of removing scheduled middle class tax increases, increasing tax rates on incomes over $400,000 and delaying spending cuts.

Politics is about compromise, and this was certainly that, but unless and until Congress gathers its collective courage to truly fix the national debt there will always be another fiscal cliff looming.

Today, among much pomp and formality, the 113th Congress — with 12 freshmen senators and 67 freshmen representatives — will be sworn into office. With the full support of citizens to do something to resolve the United States’ financial dilemma, we hope and beg this Congress will do what its predecessor did not: lay off the credit card and get our national checkbook under control.

On Wednesday, hours after Congress OK’d the fiscal cliff bill, Erskine Bowles and Al Simpson — whose “Fix the Debt” plan has been widely held as a responsible recommendation to reduce the federal deficit — released a statement criticizing the nearly-do-nothing bill.

“Washington missed this magic moment to do something big to reduce the deficit, reform our tax code and fix our entitlement programs,” even though it knew for more than a year that we could tumble over the cliff on Dec. 31, they said.

In fact, they suggested that Washington delayed and delayed action on purpose to force 11th-hour action, action that ultimately doesn't even stabilize debt.

The so-called and now-averted “fiscal cliff” was never so much a cliff as it was a vise. The term refers to the financial crunch we would have faced in the new year as tax hikes and spending cuts went into effect, cutting paychecks while simultaneously trimming government services and programs.

Even though the Senate passed the reform 89-8 on Monday and the House voted 257-167 late Tuesday, the fighting over taxes and spending is not over. In fact, it may have just begun.

While middle class tax increases have been neutralized, decisions on spending cuts were merely delayed another two months. And, as The Washington Post reports, there are plenty of corporate tax breaks preserved in the final bill, totaling some $77 billion, including $547 million to subsidize rum distilleries in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. What makes the rum subsidy especially curious is that the non-voting Puerto Rican representative to Congress says continuing the subsidy that's been in place since 2009 is too generous, and yet Congress voted to keep it in place anyway. Arrr!

So, while we all saw pictures of Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Republican Speaker John Boehner patting their brethren on the back and claiming success, the cliff looms on and the real work of cutting the debt — by reducing spending — will be as unpleasant as ever. And, remember the debate over the debt ceiling? That isn’t finished yet either.

In fact, the arguments and emotions flavoring the debt ceiling and fiscal cliff debates will almost certainly collide next month since President Obama, on Tuesday, declared he had no intention of continuing debt ceiling talks with Congress or cooperating in any way with action to curtail his ability to borrow money. (We hit the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling on Dec. 31, maxing out the nation’s “credit card” until spending cuts are implemented or the ceiling is raised.)

For the past several years now, we’ve seen Congress posture and pose, but we’ve seen very little progress on debt management. Is there some point of pride in delaying the work?

And is there some disconnect with what constituents want and, frankly, need?

It appears so, having watched Congress take a “vacation” break last week to go home for the holidays — something not permitted our troops or many other working Americans — and then missing the Dec. 31 deadline to pull us back from the fiscal cliff. Passage of the bill was only a day late, but when we’re talking about the financial health of this country, that’s really not OK.

We wish the incoming Congress well, hope it has a greater work ethic than the outgoing Congress, and that at some point it dawns on this august body that it has the fate of our economy, our livelihoods and our families in its hands.

Forget the rum subsidy and stabilize our debt.


The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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Jim Cyr's picture

New year, Old problems,

Same old Congress, same old results: SPEND, SPEND, SPEND.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

An un-ending problem.....

The arguments going back and fourth, will no doubt continue. Not enough tax revenue, the wrong people being taxed, Republicans unable to except any responsibility. Democrats spending wildly, when is it going to stop? I have just one gripe, I should probably have more, but this one sticks out. We have the cost of two wars on the books. Whether you feel they were justified or not, they happened. If those wars never took place, where would the deficit be now? Every Republican out there, is blaming Berack Obama for the deficit, he's not acting fast enough to deplete it.
I honestly feel that something needed to be done to secure this country from further attacks from the Middle East. I do feel that the military action was in most cases justified. Whether it was justified or not doesn't matter, it's on the books. It was initiated during Republican control of the White House. Why are the Republicans blaming the Democrats for it.
I get so sick of the Republicans shirking responsibility for something they initiated. It's something we all need to deal with now, and burying their heads in the sand won't help the Right any more. They need to step up to the plate and work with the rest of the country. If they put half the energy into solving the problem, as they do to avoiding it, we might make some possible progress......

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Because Obama had 4 years to

Because Obama had 4 years to fix it, and he has done nothing but spend more money on new programs, such as ACA. At some point BO has to own it.

AL PELLETIER's picture

OMG Frank.

I just finished watching David Gregory interview Mich McConnel on Meet the Press. I felt like puking! Talk about passing the buck, David asked him more then a dozen direct questions and never got a straight answer. I have never seen such a hypocrite in my entire life. I hope the nice folks in Kentucky vote that lying sack of s--- out of office in 2014. Hey, Ashley Judd might be running against him. I'd rather look at her then that pan faced idiot any day.


A soap opera

While at the same time excoriating those greedy folks, addicted to entitlements, killing the bill to fund disaster relief in the Northeast, and calling for paying off the debt, Republicans found the time to give sweetheart deals to Nascar, Disney, Goldman Sachs, J P Morgan, General Electric, the coal companies, the Puerto Rican rum industry and just today passed a military budget of over 200 billion, lots of which consists of pork for military contractors unexamined and unquestioned. And they recommend we pay for armed guards in the schools too. Predictably, they now are starting in on how we have to pay off the deficit by cutting off entitlements. Think of a family budget with a huge credit card bill. Dad decides he's keeping his paycheck, because he earned it, and confiscating the savings account to pay off a little of the credit card bill but Mom, grandma and the kids can figure out how to pay for food, the rent, utilities, medecine, heat and clothing and the rest of the credit card bill because they don't need the cushy life and the credit card bill should come first. Dad, however, can use his money to buy all the toys he wants and he is free to charge more on the credit card because while he enjoys family life he feels no resposibility to support it. This is the soap opera we will be witnessing in Washington for the next six months. Nobody is seriously trying to work out a reasonable budget. Popcorn anyone??

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Ask yourself why didn't the

Ask yourself why didn't the Senate or the President Vote the bill? Moreover, GE is Obama's buddy, isn't that correct. You will be locked in this perpetual denial until you realize both parties are culpable.

 's picture

Here is what our Congresscritters accomplished.

Compare the new revenue generated by the soak-the-rich tax increase to the new debt added in 2011, with later years projected to get only worse. The only points of these theatrics were "fairness" and beating Republicans. To Obama and Democrats, the country's economy doesn't matter; only winning matters. When this kicked can comes to rest in a couple months, the nonsense will start all over again, with the same results.

By the way, if you believe that new $62B will go to reduce the debt, I have a really nice bridge down in Brooklyn for sale cheap. Make me an offer.


Games and more games

I used to vote for Republicans because they were the party that advocated fiscal responsibility and once in a while actually achieved it. That has not been the case since the Reagan years. They talk a good line but if you look at who created most of that deficit it wasn't Democrats or Social Security. It was endless wars and corruption of our government officials primarily by lobbyists representing the military-industrial complex, wall street international financiers, global corporations and the oil, gas and coal industry combined. And where does most of their lobbying money go? Republicans. They have a long way to go to establish credibility with me as the party that will actually control spending, balance the budget and pay down the debt. They have become the party of "Reverse Robin Hood" budgeting, fearmongering and theatrical budgeting not the party of responsible fiscal policy. And I can hear it now. "The other party is no better". Well that is not a strong recommendation for change. Until someone shines a light on all the pork and corruption in Washington, we can expect a lot of drama but no progress.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

You act as if Democrats did

You act as if Democrats did not contribute to the debt. How any spending cuts did the Obama administration propose this go around? Basically, your blame only republicans approach is not rational.

 's picture

Lobbyists are not stupid.

Most of that money goes to Republicans? Democrats controlled both houses of Congress from 2006-2008, plus the Executive 2008-2010, and the Senate + Executive since. Why would lobbyists give vast sums to a party out of power? Answer: They don't. They're giving their money to Democrats, who are doing what they are paid to do, while simultaneously keeping people like you happy with baubles and trinkets like tax hikes on the "rich". Follow the money, Claire. It took a turn to the left quite a while ago.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

You are correct Mike. That

You are correct Mike. That said, that does not prevent some partisan hacks, Claire being one of them, from blaming only republicans. They will be cursing the republicans throughout their entire life. No wonder nothing will give fixed; they only understand half of the problem.


Not even close

That is categorically false. The left has their own issues with lobbyists for unions, green energy and the insurance and health industries but all you have to do is watch campaign money to know that Republicans are awash in goodies from the lobbyists I mentioned. And the amounts are not even close. No siree the Koch brothers, the NRA, Goldman Sachs, Northrop Grumman are not donating to Democrats. You will have a long way to go to sell that one.

Steve  Dosh's picture

A new year, new Congress, old problems

Ed, 13.01.02 21:35
Democracy is messy and not at all efficient
Despots and dictators surely are
" It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried. "
Sir Winston Churchill
British politician (1874 - 1965)
b t w - ^ ^ His mom was American ^ ^ , much like our sitting President , birthers :)
/s, Steve

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Yes, but Churchill never

Yes, but Churchill never claimed to be an American citizen.

 's picture

Isn't it interesting how the non-birthers ...

... keep the subject alive while everyone else seems to have moved on? I don't care where he was born. I care about the damage he is doing to his country.

Sir Winston also said: If you're not a liberal at 20, you have no heart. If you're not a conservative at 40, you have no head.


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