Massive federal spending cuts and tax hikes for most Americans are looming if Congress reaches no agreement by Tuesday to avoid the fiscal cliff.
What is needed, said Congressman John Tierney, is for both sides to compromise. Tierney, a Salem Democrat, has a front-row seat as the debate swirls in Washington, with the House set to take up the matter Sunday. President Barack Obama met with congressional leaders of both parties yesterday afternoon.
The threat of imposing $110 billion in across-the-board spending cuts and $536 billion in tax hikes was supposed to drive both sides to compromise. No one wants these arbitrary cuts or the tax hikes to take effect. Some fear they may lead to recession.
The blame, the way Tierney sees it, rests with a group of Republicans who are “adamant and uncompromising,” and who seem to be holding back moderates in their own party from making a deal, which would include, as the president has insisted, raising taxes on the top 2 percent of Americans.
Tierney said yesterday Democrats have been willing to compromise, but the other side has not.
“It’s frustrating in the sense that I think and others think a compromise could be reached if people would just be reasonable,” Tierney said.
The Republican caucus, Tierney said, seems to be led by an “all or nothing” group of about 60 lawmakers who are staunchly opposed to raising taxes and refuse to bend.
“I am absolutely frustrated,” said Tierney, “only because we were always able to make laws until the tea party got in the door.”
Tierney said some Republicans may be afraid of Grover Norquist, president of the taxpayer advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform, which wants to limit the size of government and favors tax reform. Many GOP lawmakers have taken its pledge not to raise taxes. In this Congress, 238 House members and 41 senators took the pledge, nearly all of them Republicans, according to the group’s website. Only two House Democrats and one Democratic senator have signed the pledge.
Hardliners have put enough fear in the rest of the Republican caucus that if they go against this group, incumbents might face a challenge for their seat from within their party, Tierney said.
“I think that some people are concerned about the ability to be challenged in the next primary,” Tierney said.
Tierney said Democrats have been willing to come to the table.
“One thing is for certain: the president and the Democrats, because we have been supportive of his efforts, have been more than willing to compromise,” Tierney said, including cutting spending. But those overtures, he said, have been stonewalled by Republicans.
He described House Speaker and Ohio Republican John Boehner’s Plan B proposal earlier this month, a tax increase on those earning more than $1 million, as a “nonstarter.”
“He couldn’t get his caucus to go along with that,” Tierney said.
Tierney said he’s concerned that if the country goes over the fiscal cliff, people could lose their unemployment benefits, food assistance could be cut, middle-class families would lose the earned income tax credit, and taxes would go up for families earning less than $250,000, among other things. Some of these impacts will not be immediate, but they will impact people eventually.
Tierney said the House is set to vote tomorrow evening, though nothing concrete had been proposed as far as he knew by early yesterday afternoon.
Tierney said voters will be appreciative of those who find a way to avoid sending the country over the fiscal cliff, even if certain lawmakers suffer a political setback within their own party.
“Uncompromising postures are not good for the legislative process,” he said.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.