Compromise Still Eludes Senate Cliff Negotiators
December 30, 2012 - 5:10 am
I was happy to see that the Audience Network is going to be rerunning the Fox TV series 24 on weekdays. And if congressional negotiators were smart, they could learn a thing or two by watching Jack Bauer, who always saved America just in the nick of time — usually by throwing out the rulebook and improvising a solution to the crisis.
Where is Jack when we need him?
Democrat Senate leader Harry Reid and his Republican counterpart Mitch McConnell have been locked in negotiations over the weekend, in an otherwise closed-down Capitol.
According to the Washington Post, they have set themselves a deadline of 15:00 local time (20:00 GMT) to reach a compromise agreement, after which they will convene caucus meetings of their members and decide whether the measure has enough support to be put to a vote.
The Senate could then vote on the measure and allow the House of Representatives enough time on Monday to consider it, said the paper.
This is the “Democratic Double Dare You” scenario where there will be an up-or-down vote in the Senate on maintaining middle class tax cuts, with Obama and the Democrats literally daring Republicans to vote against it in the House. Other tax-and-spending issues would be addressed after the new Congress is sworn in.
President Obama is scheduled to make a rare appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday.
He has urged negotiators to reach a deal, even if the resulting legislation is an unhappy compromise for both sides which defers resolution of some elements under discussion.
The country “just can’t afford a politically self-inflicted wound to our economy,” he said, warning that if they fail, “every American’s paycheck will get a lot smaller”.
“Congress can prevent it from happening, if they act now,” he said.
Some Republicans have pledged never to vote for increased taxes. There are some indications they could oppose any deal which included higher taxes.
Lest anyone think all the pressure is on Republicans, there are serious political concerns for Democrats as well:
But Reid faces his own competing pressures — from a White House that wants him to carry a deal through, moderate Democrats who face a tough 2014 reelection, and liberals who want him to hold firm against the GOP even if it means going over the cliff.
A number of Democrats — several of whom will face voters in 2014 — worry no one will be unscathed, including President Barack Obama. If taxes skyrocket and deep cuts take effect, Obama could preside over an eroding economy that could torpedo his second-term agenda as he tries to broaden his presidency to focus on issues like immigration reform and gun control. Voters, Democrats in the Senate fear, will take it out on them as well.
“I don’t blame people at home for wondering what in the heck is going on in the nation’s capital,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who is up for reelection in 2014. “It’s hard to explain. … I don’t think it looks good for either party.”
Landrieu is worried because the 2014 Senate map looks almost as bad as the 2012 map did for Democrats. The senator will likely be challenged by two-term congressman Bill Cassidy or perhaps even Governor Bobby Jindal, although the latter may be more interested in a run for the presidency in 2016. There are at least 10 vulnerable Democratic Senate seats going into 2014, and since neither party is covering themselves in glory during the fiscal cliff debate, Democratic senators don’t want the backwash from a failed deal to hit them as they go into campaign mode next year.
Politics aside, there is the economy to consider, and taking hundreds of dollars a month out of the paychecks of the average American by not keeping the middle class tax rates in order could prove to be a disaster if no deal can be reached for several months. And while blame will likely fall mostly on Republicans, Democrats are not going to reap much in the way of a reward because voters will rightly see all parties bearing some of the blame anyway.
Harry Reid knows this, which is why the most likely scenario now is an up-or-down vote on a much-reduced fiscal cliff package:
On Saturday, Reid and McConnell traded a flurry of offers, but sources close to the talks said they were still far apart from a deal. They plan to continue to negotiate through Sunday before briefing their respective caucuses in the afternoon. If no deal is reached, Reid will put a plan on the floor on Monday to raise taxes on families who earn more than $250,000, extend jobless benefits, patch the Alternative Minimum Tax and prevent doctors who service Medicare patients from seeing their payments slashed.
But Republicans said Saturday they doubted such a plan could pass the House, meaning Congress could very well conclude the year’s session without a deal to avert the fiscal cliff.
If this were an episode of 24, Jack Bauer would dramatically break into the room where Reid and McConnell are negotiating and torture them until they came to a deal. “There’s no time!” Bauer would exclaim over and over again.
In that, Bauer can be forgiven for understating his case.