Well, here we go again. Months after lawmakers narrowly avoided an unprecedented default on U.S. debt by agreeing to a last-minute deal — just not in time to spare the nation and its economy from a credit downgrade, naturally — we seem to be back where we started.
Well, here we go again.
Months after lawmakers narrowly avoided an unprecedented default on U.S. debt by agreeing to a last-minute deal — just not in time to spare the nation and its economy from a credit downgrade, naturally — we seem to be back where we started.
This summer’s debt-limit deal called for raising the government’s borrowing limit by up to $2.4 trillion — enough to keep it running beyond the 2012 elections — and reducing deficits by at least $2.1 trillion over a decade.
But there was a catch: Rather than determine how to accomplish such savings, lawmakers instead elected to pass the buck by creating a debt-cutting panel tasked with finding ways to trim the fat.
Billed the “Super Committee,” the special bipartisan group — comprised of six lawmakers from each chamber and an equal number of Democrats and Republicans — was touted as the solution to all of our problems. But it turns out they did not have superpowers after all, and following months of negotiations, the so-called Super Committee was no more able to reach an agreement than the full Congress was.
Lawmakers did put a fail-safe provision into place, though. If the panel deadlocked, or Congress failed to approve the committee’s proposals (which were guaranteed an up-or-down vote — no amendments — in both the House and Senate by Dec. 23), the result would be automatic across-the-board spending cuts in defense and domestic programs beginning in 2013.
Some federal programs would be exempt — including Social Security, Medicaid, veterans’ benefits and pensions and food stamps — but the cuts were meant to be so odious that panel members would feel compelled to reach a compromise.
Panel members from both parties attempted to explain the impasse on TV news programs Sunday.
“There is one sticking divide, and that’s the issue of what I call shared sacrifice,” said panel co-chair Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“The wealthiest Americans who earn over a million a year have to share, too. And that line in the sand, we haven’t seen Republicans willing to cross yet.”
Meanwhile, Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said, “If you look at the Democrats’ position, it was ‘We have to raise taxes. We have to pass this jobs bill, which is another almost half-trillion dollars. And we’re not excited about entitlement reform.’”
I realize each party has its own sacred cows, but there is a marked difference between not being “excited about” sacrificing something one feels is important and absolute refusal to make any real concessions –– and, no, agreeing to close a ludicrous loophole providing a tax break for corporate jet purchases does not count.
Democrats were willing to agree to significant cuts in benefits programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid if, in return, Republicans would sign off on increased revenue and taxes, such as ending the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy.
The need for higher taxes was also the message a group of millionaires personally delivered to lawmakers on Capitol Hill last week. Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength, boasting more than 200 millionaire members, wants the tax rate on those making more than $1 million per year to be raised to at least 39.6 percent, compared to the 35 percent they pay now.
On their website, they note that the U.S. could pay down its debt by $700 billion over the next decade by allowing tax cuts for the top 2 percent to expire as scheduled. That kind of significant savings makes sense to me, since the Bush-era tax cuts were never meant to be permanent anyway.
But given that 44 percent of Congress members are millionaires themselves, it seems a number of lawmakers are putting their own self-interest — and the size of their own bulging bank accounts — ahead of the financial health of the country and the citizens they were elected to represent. Perhaps a trip to the unemployment line would help change their minds.
City editor Amy Gehrt may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.