Fiscal deal not enough, senator says
Lawmakers inside the Beltway completely missed the point behind the fiscal cliff that they created, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet said.
The Colorado Democrat said the cliff was a crisis manufactured by Congress on purpose, to force themselves to come up with a real solution to the mounting federal debt.
But instead of doing so, Congress and President Barack Obama reached a compromise that solves some long-standing issues, but does little to address the bigger problem, a $16.4 trillion federal debt, the senator said.
“Once again, Washington has shown that it’s immune to common sense, and that’s just not acceptable,” a frustrated Bennet said in an interview Wednesday, a day after Congress approved a measure to increase taxes on the very wealthy, extend unemployment benefits and continue select tax credits.
“The entire set of policy choices, from the sequestration to the expiration of the Bush tax cuts to the other forcing mechanisms that were in place, were designed to force people to finally do material debt reduction,” Bennet said. “This plan, if it has any deficit reduction at all, which I don’t think is clear, it’s certainly not material.”
The primary features of the deal approved over the New Year’s holiday were a permanent extension of the middle-class tax cuts and a permanent increase in taxes—from 35 percent to 39.6 percent—for individuals who earn $400,000 or more a year, or married couples who earn $450,000 or more.
That change is expected to raise an additional $620 billion a year, but how much of that actually will be used to pay down the debt is unclear, the senator said.
Bennet was one of three Democratic and five Republican senators to vote against the measure.
Colorado’s other U.S. senator, Mark Udall, voted for it, saying that while the deal wasn’t perfect, at least it did address the tax issue.
Udall also was pleased the last-minute compromise included funding for the wind energy tax credit, which was set to expire on Tuesday.
“This is not the deal I would have written, but we cannot ignore the need to protect taxpayers, businesses and our fragile economy from the destructive effects of the fiscal cliff,” Udall said in a statement. “When Congress reconvenes in 2013, I will continue to push for a bipartisan deal on the deficit that grows our economy and responsibly reforms the federal government.”
In the House, 16 Democrats and 151 Republicans voted against the measure. That included Republican Rep. Scott Tipton, who represents Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District.
Tipton said the nation didn’t tax its way into such a large debt so it can’t tax its way out of it.
The only solution now, he said, is to cut government spending.
“The Senate bill raises $41 million in revenues for every $1 dollar of spending cuts,” Tipton said. “It is nothing more than business as usual as Washington tries to increase the size of government on the backs of the hard working American people. The failure to face the real issue—the spending crisis in this country—is irresponsible, dysfunctional and egregious.”
Bennet said another of his frustrations over the cliff talks is that they haven’t really ended. As a result, the economy will continue to grow at a lower pace than it should be because of the uncertainty those talks create for job creators and consumers, he said.
But worse than that, it means lawmakers inside the Beltway don’t have the same motivation to find a lasting solution to the national debt.
“One of the reasons why I voted no was because I thought we needed all these moving parts together to give us the best chance to succeed on a comprehensive debt deal,” he said. “But we’ll keep trying.”