17 Days to Fiscal Cliff: Lawmakers Head Home for the Weekend

The fiscal cliff debate will be going on some place this weekend, but Capitol Hill isn’t one of them.

With a little more than two weeks remaining before mandatory spending cuts kick in and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts sends tax rates soaring, Congress went home.

Most members left town Wednesday. Some hung around until Friday. None presented a solution to the problem that all agree will have a major impact on the economy. They’ll get back to it Monday.

“We are 18 days from a fiscal cliff, 12 days until Christmas and once again we’re having a two-day workweek in the Congress of the United States,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said at her weekly news conference Thursday. “You have to ask the question: Why are we going home instead of working very hard to forge an agreement to avoid that fiscal cliff?”

Pelosi left the news conference and boarded a plane home to California.

Where Are the Cuts?

Republican House Speaker John Boehner waited until Friday morning to go home to Ohio. He too had a news conference Thursday, firing a few barbs at President Obama before meeting with the president  later in the afternoon. Nothing new came from either place.

“The president wants to pretend spending isn’t the problem. That’s why we don’t have an agreement,” Boehner said before his meeting with Obama. “Unfortunately, the White House is so unserious about cutting spending that it appears willing to slow-walk our economy right up to — and over — the fiscal cliff.”

Obama and Boehner did agree on something during their meeting, issuing nearly identical statements saying they had a “frank” discussion and that “lines of communication are still open.”

But no agreement is pending.

Both sides are clear on where they stand: Democrats want taxes raised on the upper 2 percent of wage-earners, while Republicans want heavy spending cuts on entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security. Neither side has moved much on either issue.

Some Republicans say it’s time to talk more about raising rates.

“I think it’s time to end the debate on rates,” Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., told The Associated Press. “It’s exactly what both parties are for. We’re for extending the middle-class rates. We can debate the upper-end rates and what they are when we get into tax reform.”

“He’s (Obama) got a full house, and we’re trying to draw an inside straight,” Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said to The AP. When it was observed that making a straight would still be a losing hand, Isakson said: “Yeah, I know.”

Not Everyone Agrees

Burr and Isakson are in the Senate, where there is already agreement to raise rates. The stalemate is in the House, and Boehner has his allies there. Rep.  Andy Harris, a freshman Republican from Maryland, said he would vote against any tax increase that wasn’t paired with spending cuts at least 10 times as large. And if Obama rejects such a deal? “Then we go over the cliff,” Harris said.

Patrick T. McHenry, a Republican representative from North Carolina, told The New York Times that Boehner had given Republicans no indication “that he’s going to budge.”

“He’s not going to raise rates in any way, shape or form,” he said. “That has not changed.”

Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois says that he’s been told that increasing the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67 has been taken off the table. Pelosi already warned her party to not even consider that option.

So the impasse continues, and while it appears both sides are willing to simply go off the fiscal cliff on Jan. 1, there is quiet hope that this is all just public posturing. Behind-the-scenes negotiations and last-minute deals are a specialty in Washington. Finding a solution by Dec. 31 is always possible.

Assuming, of course, there is anyone in Washington during the holidays to vote on it.

Bill “No Pay” Fay has lived a meager financial existence his entire life. He started writing/bragging about it seven years ago, helping birth Debt.org into existence as the site’s original “Frugal Man.” Prior to that, he spent more than 30 years covering college and professional sports, which are the fantasy worlds of finance. His work has been published by the Associated Press, New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Sports Illustrated and Sporting News, among others. His interest in sports has waned some, but his interest in never reaching for his wallet is as passionate as ever. Bill can be reached at bfay@debt.org.

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    Sources:

    1. Montgomer, L. and Kan, P. (2012, December 13). Obama, Boehner meet on ‘fiscal cliff,’ but no deal is reached. The Washington Post. Retrieved from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/gop-republicans-dig-in-on-fiscal-cliff-talks/2012/12/13/019a212e-4537-11e2-8061-253bccfc7532_story_1.html
    2. Weisman, J. and Calmes, J. (2012, December 13). With Gap Wide and Time Short, Obama and Boehner Meet. The New York Times.
    3. Taylor, A. and Kuhnhenn, J. (2012, December 14). Fiscal cliff: Obama, Boehner speak frankly. The Associated Press. Retrieved from http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Latest-News-Wires/2012/1214/Fiscal-cliff-Obama-Boehner-speak-frankly-video