Democrats held firm today to their demand of a rapid middle-class tax cut extension, posturing on deficit reduction and trying to twist Republican arms as $492 billion in defense cuts loom on the horizon.
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), one of the members of the super committee that failed to reach a deficit-reduction consensus last November, thus triggering the sequestration, said the Democrats’ game is worse than Russian roulette.
“Russian roulette implies that you’ve got five chances out of six that you won’t kill yourself. Phil Gramm used to have a saying around here: ‘Never take a hostage you’re not willing to shoot,’” Kyl told reporters while flanked by other Senate GOP leaders today. “But the Democrats, apparently, are willing to take hostage the American economy, our defense preparedness, and literally the lives of families and businesses in this country just in order to raise taxes on 940,000 businesses in this country. They are apparently ready to shoot the hostage.”
Republicans have protested that President Obama is ignoring the potentially catastrophic cuts — reductions that would lead to the smallest ground force since 1940, a fleet of fewer than 230 ships (the smallest since 1915), and the smallest tactical-fighter force in the history of the Air Force, according to the House Armed Services Committee.
But the message of Democrats, almost giddy over their bargaining chip, is clear: If you want some semblance of a strong national defense, tax the wealthy.
While Obama was on the campaign trail in the Lone Star State today, former Vice President Dick Cheney was on Capitol Hill to counsel Republicans on how to avoid sequestration.
A former secretary of Defense, Cheney reportedly warned House and Senate lawmakers that defense money needs to flow in “predictable ways” or else the U.S. would be left vulnerable in the face of encroaching threats such as Iran.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) knocked Cheney’s visit as a plug for his old defense contractor days.
“Halliburton did extremely well during his time as vice president, and I assume there’s going to be some concern about Halliburton again in this conversation they’re going have today,” Reid quipped to reporters following a policy luncheon.
He also chastised reporters for concentrating on the defense end of automatic cuts triggered by the failure of the super committee.
“You always fail to mention that there’s big cuts there for domestic programs, also. So what we’ve said with that legislation — it’s going to be hard, but we need to find $1.2 trillion to relieve the country from the burden of this debt. And this will be a long — a big step in that direction,” Reid said.
As Reid urged that “the 2 percent should pay a little more,” though, Kyl countered that the tax increase would hurt beyond defense.
Kyl cited a May report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that predicted the economy will contract at a rate of 1.3 percent annual rate for the first six months of 2013 — a “mild recession” with just one half of one percent GDP growth. “Now, we’re hurting today at just under 2 percent,” he said.
“In contrast, if we don’t allow this big tax increase, if we continue the current tax policies that we’ve had for the last decade, CBO projects that the economy will grow by 4.4 percent,” Kyl continued. “Think about the difference. Republicans in effect are saying let’s have 4.4 percent growth, Democrats are saying we’ll be satisfied with the recession and one half of 1 percent.”
“The CBO estimated earlier this year that under the Democrat proposal, joblessness will rise from its current 8.2 percent to 9.2 percent,” he added. “All of this plus incredible damage to U.S. defense, just so they can say they increased taxes on 940,000 businesses.”
Obama has urged Congress to pass the middle-class tax cuts immediately, then come back to the rest of the tax-cut extensions — which expire at the end of the year — another time. He has made clear, though, that he won’t support tax-cut extensions for the upper-income brackets, making even Democrats who had supported more generous income ceilings abandon their earlier compromise efforts and come to Obama’s side.
The debate kicked off the week at a fever pitch after Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), co-chair of the super committee, said “something is going to have to change” if Congress wants to avoid “the so-called fiscal cliff.”