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Old 07-20-2012, 10:41 AM  
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The Fiscal Cliff Approacheth

In an effort to make this thread sticky-worthy, I am going to update this OP to keep casual glancers informed.

This post is the official one-stop shopping of the key points/developments of the fiscal cliff negotiations.

Far as I understand, the fiscal cliff:

1. Gets rid of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.
2. Gets rid of the Bush tax cuts for everybody else.
3. Slashes defense spending by something like $500 billion.
4. Slashes domestic programs like the NIH, Head Start, and medicine/drug care for the poor by $500 billion.

The new idea is for Democrats to allow the cliff to hit, then immediately introduce a bill that would bring 2, 4, and some of 3 back. But not 1.

Here is a chart detailing exactly what the fiscal cliff is going to do, financially:


Originally Posted by Direckshun View Post
New CBO projection: if the fiscal cliff hits, we are in another recession, and lose two million jobs.

The poor would be hurt by the fiscal cliff:

Originally Posted by Direckshun View Post
Overall, if the tax breaks from the 2009 stimulus are allowed to expire—the EITC and Child Tax Credit expansions, along with American Opportunity Credit for college tuition—the poorest 20 percent of Americans would see their taxes go up by $209 on average, reducing their after-tax income by 1.9 percent, according to the Tax Policy Center.
As would the middle class:

Originally Posted by Direckshun View Post
According to estimates by the Tax Policy Center, more than half of all married couples will owe an additional tax of around $4,000 unless Congress acts. And more than a third of families with children will fall subject to the AMT, with parents of three or more children facing an extra tax of $4,700.

Among married couples with at least two children and adjusted gross income between $75,000 and $100,000, the center estimates that 84 percent will face a significantly higher tax bill this year because of the AMT.
There seems to be some consensus between the parties that substantial revenues want to be raised. Boehner and the GOP hopes that's through limiting tax deductions rather than tax raises.

Obama's opening offer, essentially:

  • Allow the Bush tax cuts on high earners to expire. $849 billion
  • Limit itemized deductions to 28 percent, close some loopholes and deductions on high earners, eliminate tax breaks for oil and gas companies, eliminate the carried interest loophole, plus a few other items. $584 billion
  • Create a special "Buffett Rule" tax rate for millionaires. $47 billion
  • Restore the estate tax to 2009 levels. $143 billion
  • Limit corporate income shifting to low-tax countries. $148 billion
  • Other miscellaneous tax increases and reductions. About -$200 billion
  • Total: $1.6 trillion

Last edited by Direckshun; 11-14-2012 at 10:54 AM..
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Old 12-27-2012, 03:11 PM   #691

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Protest all you want Direckshun, but I know you're smart enough to realize that Obama is a terrible leader and the primary reason we see almost no bipartisanship in the federal government today.
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Old 12-27-2012, 11:26 PM   #692

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Originally Posted by patteeu View Post
Protest all you want Direckshun, but I know you're smart enough to realize that Obama is a terrible leader and the primary reason we see almost no bipartisanship in the federal government today.
Restating your conclusions while ignoring my arguments I just made.
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Old 12-28-2012, 12:57 PM   #693

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Narrower Tax Deal Floated as Lawmakers to Sit With Obama
Published: December 28, 2012

WASHINGTON — Congressional leaders prepared for what was looming as a make-or-break White House meeting on the fiscal crisis Friday afternoon as top aides said they were exploring a scaled-back proposal that would prevent tax increases on household income of $400,000 or below.

The potential compromise, which was in the early stages and far from a certainty, was emerging as the top four Congressional leaders — Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader; Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader; Speaker John A. Boehner; and Representative Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader — were set to meet with President Obama as a group for the first time in weeks to try to reach a resolution as Congress headed toward a rare New Year’s Eve session.

Congressional officials say staff-level talks between the White House and the Senate Republican leader are centering around a deal that would extend all the expiring Bush income tax cuts up to $400,000 in income. Some spending cuts would pay for a provision putting off a sudden cut in payments to medical providers treating Medicare patients. The deal would also prevent an expansion of the alternative minimum tax to keep it from hitting more of the middle class. It would extend a raft of already expired business tax cuts, like the research and development credit, and would renew tax cuts for the working poor and the middle class included in the 2009 stimulus law. The estate tax would stay at current levels.

It would not stop automatic spending cuts from hitting military and domestic programs beginning on Wednesday, nor would it raise the statutory borrowing limit, which will be reached on Monday. Congressional aides said those issues would be dealt with early next year in yet another showdown.

White House officials denied that any such offer was developing and said that the president was sticking with his insistence that household income only up to $250,000 would be protected from tax increases.

While neither side was confident of any agreement, some top lawmakers said there was still a chance of a breakthrough that could at least avoid the most far-reaching economic effects. “I am hopeful that there will be a deal that avoids the worst parts of the fiscal cliff; namely, taxes’ going up on middle-class people,” Senator Charles E. Schumer, the No. 3 Senate Democrat, said Friday on the “Today” show on NBC. “I think there can be. And I think the odds are better than people think that they could be.”

Democrats from high-tax, high-wealth states have pressed the White House and their leaders to accept a threshold higher than the president’s $250,000, but they appear ready to accept anything that can pass.

“I have a very practical standard to apply: whatever threshold we need to avoid the fiscal cliff,” said Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, a Democrat-turned-independent from Connecticut.

Much of the legislative attention was focused on Mr. McConnell as Democrats pushed him to provide assurances that Republicans would not use procedural tactics to block any measure that the Senate might consider. House Republican leaders have already said they would be willing to consider whatever legislation the Senate could pass when the House convenes beginning Sunday afternoon. If Republicans chose to erect hurdles to any legislation, Congress might not have sufficient time to advance a measure before the deadline on Tuesday.

Mr. McConnell was well aware of the Democratic efforts to put the onus on him. “Make no mistake: the only reason Democrats have been trying to deflect attention onto me and my colleagues over the past few weeks is that they don’t have a plan of their own that could get bipartisan support,” he said on Thursday.

But he also said he was willing to review any proposal that would come from the White House and then “we’ll decide how best to proceed.”

“Hopefully there is still time for an agreement of some kind that saves the taxpayers from a wholly preventable economic crisis,” he added.

As it awaited a proposal on tax and spending issues, the Senate did make some progress on other legislation, sending the president a renewal of antiterrorism surveillance laws and advancing some relief for states and communities hit by Hurricane Sandy this year.
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Old 12-29-2012, 01:32 PM   #694

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The GOP is resigned to accepting the bulk of the blame over the cliff.

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Old 12-29-2012, 02:54 PM   #695

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Originally Posted by Direckshun View Post
The GOP is resigned to accepting the bulk of the blame over the cliff.

The initial blame won't matter when the next elections come around. By then we'll have six straight years of Obama failure in the books, working on a full lost decade thanks to democrat tax and spend excesses.
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Old 12-29-2012, 05:58 PM   #696

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Wishful Thinking and Middle-Class Taxes
Published: December 29, 2012

IN the continuing fiscal negotiations between President Obama and House Republicans, both sides have, from the very beginning, agreed on one point: Taxes on the middle class must not rise. But maybe it’s time to reconsider this premise. An unwavering commitment to keep middle-class taxes low could be one reason the political process has become so deeply dysfunctional.

Let’s start with the problem: the budget deficit. Under current policy, the federal government is spending vastly more than it is collecting in tax revenue. And that will be true for the next several decades, thanks largely to the growth in entitlement spending that will occur automatically as the population ages and health care costs increase. As a result, the ratio of government debt to the nation’s gross domestic product is projected to rise, substantially and without an end in sight.

That can happen for a while, or even a long while, but not forever. At some point, investors at home and abroad will start questioning our ability to service our debts without creating steep inflation. It’s hard to say precisely when this shift in investor sentiment will occur, and even whether it will strike in this president’s term or the next, but when it does, it won’t be pretty. The United States will find itself at the brink of an unprecedented financial crisis.

Republicans and Democrats agree on the nature of the problem, but they embrace very different solutions. My fear is that both sides are engaged in an excess of wishful thinking, with a dash of mendacity.

If Republicans had their way, they would focus the entire solution on the spending side. They say that reform of the entitlement programs can reduce their cost. The so-called premium-support plan for Medicare, from Paul D. Ryan, the 2012 Republican vice-presidential candidate, would let older Americans use their health care dollars to buy insurance from competing private plans. (Interestingly, it’s similar to the system envisioned for the nonelderly by President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.) The hope is that competition and choice would keep health care costs down without sacrificing quality.

The premium-support model may well be better than the current Medicare system, but its supporters oversell what it would be likely to accomplish. The primary driver of increasing health care costs over time is new technology, which extends and improves the quality of life, but often at high cost. Unless the pace or nature of medical innovation changes, this trend is likely to continue, regardless of structural reforms we enact for Medicare.

Democrats, meanwhile, want to preserve the social safety net pretty much as is. They balk at any attempt to reduce this spending, including even modest changes like altering the price index used to calculate Social Security benefits. They focus their attention on raising taxes on the most financially successful Americans, contending that the rich are not paying their “fair share.”

Fairness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Unfortunately, people’s judgment is often based on anecdotes that distort rather than illuminate. The story of the undertaxed Warren Buffett and his overtaxed secretary looms larger in the public’s mind than it should.

Here are some facts, so you can judge for yourself:

In 2009, the most recent year for which data are available, the richest 1 percent of Americans paid 28.9 percent of their income in federal taxes, according to the Congressional Budget Office. (That includes income taxes, both individual and corporate, and payroll taxes.) Members of the middle class, defined as the middle fifth of households, paid 11.1 percent of their income in taxes.

Some of this difference in tax rates is attributable to temporary tax changes passed in response to the recent recession. But not all. In 2006, before the financial crisis, the top 1 percent paid 30 percent of their income in taxes, compared with 13.9 percent for the middle class.

These data suggest that the rich are not, as a general matter, shirking their responsibilities to support the federal government. To me, the current tax system looks plenty progressive. Others may disagree.

One point, however, cannot be disputed: Even if President Obama wins all the tax increases on the rich that he is asking for, the long-term fiscal picture will still look grim. Perhaps we can stabilize the situation for a few years just by taxing the rich, but as greater numbers of baby boomers retire and start collecting Social Security and Medicare, more will need to be done.

Which brings us back to the middle class. When President Obama talks about taxing the rich, he means the top 2 percent of Americans. John A. Boehner, the House speaker, talks about an even thinner slice. But the current and future fiscal imbalances are too large to exempt 98 percent or more of the public from being part of the solution.

Ultimately, unless we scale back entitlement programs far more than anyone in Washington is now seriously considering, we will have no choice but to increase taxes on a vast majority of Americans. This could involve higher tax rates or an elimination of popular deductions. Or it could mean an entirely new tax, such as a value-added tax or a carbon tax.

To be sure, the path ahead is not easy. No politician who wants to be re-elected is eager to entertain the possibility of higher taxes on the middle class. But fiscal negotiations might become a bit easier if everyone started by agreeing that the policies we choose must be constrained by the laws of arithmetic.
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Old 12-29-2012, 06:00 PM   #697

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Look for the can to be kicked further down the road. Washington way.
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Old 12-29-2012, 06:04 PM   #698

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It's likely that nothing will be put up for a vote until the actual 31st.

Surely Congress will not let the fiscal cliff hit without a serious vote. A single serious vote.

If they do put something up on the 31st, it will be immensely interesting to see who votes which way.
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Old 12-30-2012, 06:50 PM   #699

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A sliver of reason shining though.


GOP senators backing away from Social Security demand
By Erik Wasson
12/30/12 03:05 PM ET

GOP senators on Sunday backed away from demanding that cuts to Social Security benefits be included in any “fiscal cliff” deal.

The call to include a measure of inflation known as the chained consumer price index, or “chained CPI,” threatened to derail talks as negotiators raced to find a compromise by their year-end deadline.

But after a conference meeting, GOP lawmakers made clear they were not insisting on the measure.

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) said Social Security cuts are all but off the table. She said that the issue would be "a part of a larger debate,” later in 2013 when Congress considers raising the debt-ceiling limit.

"It's safe to say that chained CPI will not be a part of … [the GOP's] proposal. … We'll leave that for a later day, which I'm pleased about because I'm not a fan of affecting those currently on Social Security, especially the more elderly," said Snowe.

"There is a realization that that proposal deserves more study," added Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have been negotiating since late Friday on a package to avoid the combination of automatic tax increases and spending cuts set to begin in January.

On Sunday, the GOP introduced their new demand for including the chained CPI measure. The accounting adjustment would create reductions in some Social Security and other entitlement benefit payments while raising some tax revenue. But Democrats said it was a non-starter this late in negotiations.

Reid took to the Senate floor and said that talks had reached an impasse and that "at this stage we are not able to make a counteroffer."

“We’re not going to have any Social Security cuts," Reid added. “It’s just doesn’t seem appropriate at this time,” said Reid.

Multiple GOP senators said a chief sticking point is that Democrats want to use new revenue to replace or delay the sequester, while Republicans want other offsetting spending cuts. But GOP senators said they were abandoning the demand on Social Security to push toward a deal.

Incoming Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said that McConnell expects to convene the conference again later Sunday as talks continue.

Heading into the Sunday Republican conference meeting, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a party leader on Social Security reform, said chained CPI did not need to be in the deal.

"It is absolutely not crucial at all," he said, adding that it can be done as part of a debt-ceiling deal next year.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said that Democrats needed to take the next step in talks. "If that is unacceptable to them they need to come up with an alternative," he said.

Chained CPI is greatly opposed by progressives in the Senate Democratic caucus and could have led members of Reid's own party to filibuster a deal on the floor as the deadline for the fiscal cliff approaches.

The new measure was included in an offer by Obama to Boehner as part of their talks to reach a more sweeping deal. Those talks involved much greater levels of guaranteed revenue from tax reform than appear to be on the table in the Reid-McConnell talks. As such, Democrats were loath to lose the concession at this time.

Obama in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, however, cited chained CPI as one area where he would be willing to buck liberals in his party to push entitlement reform.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has also in the past said that she would be open to support chained CPI as part of a broad deal.

"If there are some savings that do not harm people who are in need, then that's something to look at,” said Pelosi earlier this month. “But we're really actually looking at the bigger picture. It doesn't mean you subscribe to everything within it. And certainly my colleagues are not happy with the chained CPI. But if we were very happy with the proposal that the president put forth, I'm not sure it would have much of a chance on the Republican side."
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Old 12-30-2012, 06:52 PM   #700

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G.O.P. Yields on Fiscal Point, Clearing Way for More Talks
Published: December 30, 2012

WASHINGTON — Negotiations over a last-ditch agreement to head off large tax increases and sweeping spending cuts in the new year appeared to resume on Sunday afternoon after Republican senators withdrew a demand that any deal must include a new way of calculating inflation that would lower payments to beneficiary programs like Social Security and slow their growth.

Senate Republicans emerged from a closed-door meeting to say they agreed with Democrats that the request — which had temporarily brought talks to a standstill — was not appropriate for a quick deal to avert the tax increases and spending cuts starting Jan. 1.

To hold the line against raising taxes on high-income households while fighting for cuts to Social Security was “not a winning hand,” said Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona.

The concession could be a breakthrough, but Senate Republicans were still balking at an agreement, adopting a new argument that Democrats wanted to raise taxes just to increase spending, not to cut the deficit. That concern appeared to center on a Democratic proposal to temporarily suspend across-the-board spending cuts to military and domestic programs as talks resumed on a larger deficit deal.

The demand for the new way of calculating inflation, known as “chained C.P.I.,” issued at 7:10 p.m. on Saturday, had stopped talks cold. Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, went to the Senate floor a little after 2 p.m. on Sunday to say that Republicans had made their last offer and had yet to receive a reply.

“I’m concerned about the lack of urgency. I think we all know we’re running out of time,” Mr. McConnell said.

Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, responded that “at this stage, we’re not able to make a counteroffer.” He said that Mr. McConnell had negotiated in good faith but that “we’re apart on some pretty big issues.”

Mr. McConnell said he had made an emergency call to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to get the talks started again. The two spoke twice, and the White House dispatched the president’s chief legislative negotiator, Rob Nabors, to the Capitol to meet with Senate Democrats.

Talks foundered after Republicans dug in in an effort to get the largest deficit reduction deal in the time remaining, according to numerous Republican and Democratic officials familiar with the negotiations. Republicans told Democrats that they were willing to put off scheduled cuts in payments to health care providers who treat Medicare patients but that they wanted spending cuts elsewhere.

But it was the inflation calculation that forced Democrats from the negotiating table. President Obama has said that in a “grand bargain” on deficit reduction, he would go along with the change, which would slow the growth of programs whose outlays rise with consumer prices, and would raise more revenue by pushing people into higher tax brackets.

Democrats said that Mr. Obama and Congressional Democrats would accept that change only as part of a larger deal that included locking in well more than $1 trillion in revenue over 10 years, along with other Republican concessions. Democrats fear that any such concessions now would only increase demands for additional compromises in the coming weeks, when talks resume on a “grand bargain” to reduce the deficit.

They point to the $1 trillion in spending cuts agreed to last year in the Budget Control Act. Democrats say those should be included in a $4 trillion “grand bargain,” but Republicans say those cuts should not be part of future negotiations. Republicans would likely do the same if Democrats agree now to concessions on the inflation calculation, Democratic aides said Sunday.

Mr. Reid made clear that Democrats did not intend to include Social Security in any stopgap package. Doing so would make it hard for him to round up votes from his own party, and he has resisted touching Social Security.

“We’re not going to have any Social Security cuts,” Mr. Reid said on the floor.

The breakdown came after Mr. Obama appeared on the NBC program “Meet the Press” on Sunday and implored Congress to act.

“We have been talking to the Republicans ever since the election was over,” Mr. Obama said in the interview, which was taped on Saturday. “They have had trouble saying yes to a number of repeated offers. Yesterday I had another meeting with the leadership, and I suggested to them if they can’t do a comprehensive package of smart deficit reductions, let’s at minimum make sure that people’s taxes don’t go up and that two million people don’t lose their unemployment insurance.”

“And I was modestly optimistic yesterday, but we don’t yet see an agreement,” Mr. Obama said. “And now the pressure’s on Congress to produce.”

Unless Congress acts by midnight Monday, a broad set of tax increases and federal spending cuts will be automatically imposed on Jan. 1, affecting virtually every taxpayer and government program. The spending cuts were put in place earlier this year as draconian incentives that would force the president and lawmakers to confront the nation’s growing debt. Now, lawmakers are trying to keep them from happening, though it seemed likely that the cuts, known as sequestration, would be left for the next Congress, to be sworn in this week.

Both sides worry that the confrontational tone that the president took on “Meet the Press” was not helpful.

Don Stewart, a spokesman for Mr. McConnell, issued a statement criticizing Mr. Obama’s remarks. “While the president was taping those discordant remarks yesterday,” Mr. Stewart said, “Senator McConnell was in the office working to bring Republicans and Democrats together on a solution. Discussions continue today.”

House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, in his comments, pointed to the president as the problem. Republicans have tried to reach an agreement, Mr. Boehner said, but “the president has continued to insist on a package skewed dramatically in favor of higher taxes that would destroy jobs.”

Republicans have blamed Mr. Obama for seeking to punish the wealthy with large tax increases and have accused him of not negotiating in good faith. They say his approach would worsen the deficit by protecting Democratic constituency groups from tax increases and benefit reductions while imposing sharp penalties on farmers and small business owners.

Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, a member of the Republican leadership, said Sunday on the CNN program “State of the Union” that Mr. Obama was not dealing with the real issue imperiling the economy — the Democrats’ “addiction to spending.”

The president and party leaders in the House and Senate have been seeking a compromise measure that would protect middle-income families from the worst of the tax increases, but there has been no agreement on where to draw the line. With the Bush-era tax cuts expiring, Mr. Obama and Democrats have said they want tax rates to rise on incomes over $250,000 a year; Republicans want a higher threshold, at perhaps $400,000.

As part of the last-minute negotiations, the lawmakers have haggled over unemployment benefits, cuts in Medicare payments to doctors, taxes on large inheritances and limits on the impact of the alternative minimum tax, a parallel income tax system that is intended to ensure that the rich pay a fair share but that is increasingly encroaching on the middle class.

Mr. Obama has said that if talks between the Senate leaders break down, he wants the Senate to schedule an up-or-down vote on a narrower measure that would extend only the middle-class tax breaks and unemployment benefits. Mr. Reid said he would schedule such a vote on Monday absent a deal.

In his comments, Mr. Obama singled out the top Republican leaders — Senator McConnell and Speaker Boehner — for threatening to derail any deal in order to protect the wealthiest Americans.

Under questioning from David Gregory, the host of “Meet the Press,” Mr. Obama would not accept any responsibility for the impasse. He blamed Republican intransigence and political “dysfunction” in Washington, and said he had offered multiple reasonable compromises.

“What is it about you, Mr. President,” Mr. Gregory asked, “that you think is so hard to say yes to?”

“That’s something you’re probably going to have to ask them,” the president responded, “because, David, you follow this stuff pretty carefully. The offers that I’ve made to them have been so fair that a lot of Democrats get mad at me.”

Mr. Obama said the priority for Republicans seemed to be “making sure that tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are protected.”

At some point, he said, “I think what’s going to be important is that they listen to the American people.”

Another issue dividing Democrats and Republicans is the tax on inherited estates, which currently hits inheritances over $5 million at 35 percent. On Jan. 1, it is scheduled to rise to 55 percent, beginning with inheritances exceeding $1 million.
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Old 12-31-2012, 12:33 AM   #701

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The Republican Party in one tweet
Posted by Ezra Klein
on December 30, 2012 at 5:23 pm

This is pretty much the Republican Party in one tweet:

Today’s Republican Party thinks the key problem America faces is out-of-control entitlement spending. But cutting entitlement spending is unpopular and the GOP’s coalition relies heavily on seniors. And so they don’t want to propose entitlement cuts. If possible, they’d even like to attack President Obama for proposing entitlement cuts. But they also want to see entitlements cut and will refuse to solve the fiscal cliff or raise the debt ceiling unless there are entitlement cuts.

You can see why these negotiations aren’t going well.
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Old 12-31-2012, 12:36 AM   #702

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Our Pathetic Congress
Surprised that our lame-duck representatives can’t reach a fiscal-cliff deal? You shouldn’t be. John Avlon on how our government turned to self-sabotage.
by John Avlon
Dec 30, 2012 9:43 AM EST

Welcome back to Washington, House of Representatives. Hope you all had a great vacation. While you were out, your inaction caused markets to tumble, and now America is just hours away from collectively being pushed off the fiscal cliff.

Your colleagues in the Senate—the supposedly responsible body—have been working the last three days, trying to put together some kind of deal your fractious asses can pass by New Year’s Eve. The bad news is that as of Sunday morning, they still didn’t have a plan to avoid the fiscal cliff. Agreement that 98 percent of Americans shouldn’t have their taxes raised isn’t enough. And deficit and debt reduction? Forget about it—this is all now a desperate exercise in political pain avoidance.

The fiscal cliff is, of course, the world’s most predictable crisis. Congress set this time bomb themselves—and now they can’t agree on how to defuse it, despite more than a year of debate and a presidential election largely centered on the subject.

In a surreal twist, Democrats are readying bills for the first days of the new congress to pass the largest middle-class tax cut in American history if they can’t get enough Republicans to agree we shouldn’t go over the cliff.

The implications are not adequately captured by the catchy visual metaphor. Not only will your taxes be raised, but America’s economic recovery could be reversed, with congressional incompetence pushing America back into recession.

Congressional approval now stands at 18 percent. The real question is why is it so high?

The current 112th Congress—characterized by Tea Party congressmen elected two years ago—is the least productive since the 1940s. It makes Harry Truman’s infamous “Do-Nothing Congress” look like a paragon of speed and efficiency.

The problem of course is that polarization—the decline of competitive swing districts due to the rigged system of redistricting—has made most Republican congressmen terrified of being primaried from the right for being too reasonable. This problem has been compounded by the rise of partisan media, which has dumbed down civic discourse into an angry, idiotic us-against-them exercise. The result is congressional division and dysfunction. Congratulations.

But direct culpability in creating the conditions for this crisis hasn’t stopped the professional partisan activist class from arguing that at this pivotal moment, members of Congress should do nothing and just go over the cliff.

FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity have been emailing their supporters to tell them to pressure their congressman not to vote for any tax increases. That might sound impressively principled, until you realize that its really an insult to their supporters' intelligence—because all taxes will be raised automatically, unless congress votes to keep taxes low on 98 percent of Americans, as our supposedly socialist president has repeatedly proposed.

On the left, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee is also arguing for no compromise, with its cofounder Adam Green emailing supporters: “Democrats need to continue a bright line position: Raise tax rates on those making $250,000 at least to the Clinton rates and no cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security benefits. Period.” This also ends up being an argument for going over the cliff, because it dooms any hope of even a modest deal as a good-faith basis for future action on the deficit and debt.

If this supposedly liberated lame-duck Congress can’t agree on basic outlines of a grand bargain agreement that has been debated in detail for the past two years, why should we believe that the next Congress will have more success? Immigration reform, gun reforms—those more difficult debates will be effectively DOA from day one.

This is self-government committing economic suicide, putting ideological absolutism ahead of solving problems. The idea of a productive lame-duck session after the contentious election has been erased. Hopefully, Senators Reid and McConnell will surprise us with some kind of patchwork compromise by the self-imposed deadline of 3 p.m. today, but they have been keeping rumors of progress to themselves. (Update: they didn't.)

Beyond the looming fiscal abyss, senators have been busy passing a flurry of last-minute legislation that can be categorized as the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. They finally agreed to not be complete grinches and pass a Hurricane Sandy relief bill, but it seems far from assured from passage in the House. By a lopsided vote of 73 to 23, the Senate also extended Bush-era warrantless wiretapping until 2017; civil libertarians screamed, but not loud enough. And thanks to an executive order by President Obama, members of Congress will see a modest pay raise in the new year. You know, as a reward for all their good work over the past two years.

This congressional Kabuki is killing us, because it masks a more fundamental problem. Congress seems unable to act unless confronted with a crisis at the last minute—and even then, they can’t agree on anything significant or substantive that actually deals with long-term problems. Maybe they should just stay on vacation and spare us the rhetoric. But as the clock ticks to New Year’s, they should have a guilty conscience that might inspire a genuine resolution to reform. Because they created this crisis and now seem unable to fix it. We’re the ones who will feel the pain. It is an epic act of self-sabotage.
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Old 12-31-2012, 10:39 AM   #703

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This absolutely must be kabuki theatre.

There is no way an agreement gets made today.


Fiscal cliff: Major progress toward deal
12/31/12 6:00 AM EST

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Vice President Joe Biden engaged in furious overnight negotiations to avert the fiscal cliff and made major progress toward a year-end tax deal, giving sudden hope to high-stakes talks that had been on the brink of collapse, according to sources familiar with the discussion.

McConnell and Biden, who served in the Senate together for 23 years, are closing in on an agreement that would hike tax rates for families who earn more than $450,000, and individuals who make more than $400,000, according to sources familiar with talks. That would mark significant concessions for both men, particularly for McConnell. President Barack Obama campaigned on raising taxes for families who make more than $250,000, but McConnell has long been dead-set against any tax increases, warning they would jeopardize the economy.

However, there has been no agreement over “turning off” the sequester, tens of billions of dollars in spending cuts that will hit the Pentagon and other federal agencies beginning on Jan. 2, the sources said.

The last-ditch horse-trading underscored the urgency of the situation because if no deal is reached, every income group will be hit with a tax hike starting Tuesday.

Crucial conversations between Biden and McConnell occurred early Monday morning, at 12:45 a.m. and 6:30 a.m., aides said.

The vice president and the Senate minority leader only began talking Sunday, after negotiations between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and McConnell sputtered.

Sources close to the talks said a deal is now more likely to come together but cautioned that obstacles remain, including how Speaker John Boehner and House Republican leaders react to any tentative agreement. Boehner has vowed to bring any bill the Senate passes to the House floor, but House Republicans could amend the package, which would throw any agreement into flux

“The leader and the VP continued their discussion late into the evening and will continue to work toward a solution. More info as it becomes available,” a McConnell spokesman said.

It comes as Washington awakens on a chilly New Year’s eve to a daunting reality: If lawmakers and the White House are not able to broker a last-minute deal on the fiscal cliff, the country will actually go over it.

Going over the cliff is not how Americans want to start 2013: with hefty new tax hikes and spending cuts that could send the stock market plummeting, slash defense spending and interrupt an economic recovery that was just beginning to spark.

But after a weekend in which senators haggled over one obstacle to agreement after another, going over the cliff looked like a real possibility, if not a probability. The McConnell-Biden talks look like they could avert this potential disaster.

The main hurdle remained over which income groups would be hit with tax hikes in the new year.

Democrats had proposed raising taxes on individuals who make more than $360,000 annually and families whose income is more than $450,000. And McConnell had countered with a tax hike for individuals above $450,000 and couples who earn more than $550,000 earlier in the evening Sunday.

But Democratic sources close to the talks said McConnell would have to go significantly lower to win support from their party, although that would make it more difficult for the GOP leader to win over fellow Republicans.

Estate taxes, a chief concern for McConnell, remained a sticking point as well.

The back-and-forth shows the difficult political calculus both sides were making on the eve of a critical deadline. The drawn-out negotiations were frustrating to many in both parties who are eager to see an agreement reached.

“I’ve been here four years, and I cannot believe negotiations have reached this level of gridlock. I am fed up with the stalling,” said Alaska Democratic Sen. Mark Begich.

With no deal at hand, Senate leaders were preparing alternative plans to avoid the cliff’s full impact, including a fallback option floated by Democrats to force through an extension of current tax rates for families who make less than $250,000, as well as new spending measures to extend jobless benefits for 2 million unemployed Americans. Republicans were still weighing whether they’d demand 60 votes for passage of even a limited measure, though the prospects for such a bill in the GOP-controlled House remained bleak.

Such a deal wouldn’t fend off the sequester. Federal agencies, including the Pentagon, will be required to cut $109 billion over the next nine months, raising the specter of furloughs and layoffs for federal employees.

The House Republican leadership moved Sunday night to give itself expedited authority to bring legislation to the floor in case the Senate actually passes a compromise bill Monday.

House Republicans, who turned against their own leadership last week, rallied around Boehner on Sunday night, giving him a round of applause for his work in negotiating over the fiscal cliff.

But the more both sides negotiated this weekend, the more they seemed to remain in place.

After loud Democratic protests on Sunday, Republicans agreed to take off the table a controversial provision that would have cut Social Security benefits. But more hurdles soon emerged, including over automatic spending cuts set to take place next year, and the rates for estate taxes that are set to balloon if no deal is reached by the new year.

But the more both sides negotiated this weekend, the more they seemed to remain in place.

After loud Democratic protests on Sunday, Republicans agreed to take off the table a controversial provision that would have cut Social Security benefits. But more hurdles soon emerged, including over automatic spending cuts set to take place next year, and the rates for estate taxes that are set to balloon if no deal is reached by the new year.

Key to the stalemate is the growing tension between McConnell and Reid, the pair who took over the fiscal cliff talks Friday following weeks of fruitless discussion between Obama and Boehner.

Democrats are angry at McConnell, believing he’s adopted for the Senate the “majority of majority” standard Boehner has demanded in the House. McConnell does not believe Reid is playing straight with him, saying the Nevada Democrats has shown little urgency by dragging his feet through the weekend of talks.

McConnell even called in Biden to help break the logjam, although the vice president has offered nothing different from Reid’s position.

“There is still significant distance between the two sides, but negotiations continue,” Reid said Sunday evening, announcing that the chamber would return Monday morning.

Biden’s inclusion in the negotiations — similar to the role he played in previous legislative fights involving McConnell, an old Senate colleague — sets up a “good cop, bad cop” scenario for Democrats, with Reid playing the heavy and Biden able to work more closely with GOP leaders on Capitol Hill.

Republicans, for their part, aren’t sure Reid and Obama even want a deal, believing Democrats figure that they win politically if no agreement is reached and the country goes off the cliff.

Republicans were still weighing their strategy if Reid moves forward with a fallback plan. If they consent to a simple majority vote, the bill could pass the Senate, putting House leaders in a difficult position on the eve of a cliff fall. But if Senate GOP-ers demand 60 votes, they could be blamed for blocking a last-ditch deal to avert massive tax hikes.

“We’d like to be able to offer some amendments” to a cliff deal, said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the incoming GOP whip. “It depends on the majority leader.”

House Republicans — who brought their chamber back to session Sunday — are waiting for the Senate to pass a bill, and don’t plan to move any bill on their own.
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Old 12-31-2012, 12:43 PM   #704

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Old 12-31-2012, 01:53 PM   #705
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