Quotes of the day

posted at 8:31 pm on December 29, 2012 by Allahpundit

New Yorkers of all income levels got a rude awakening yesterday when they saw in The Post how much more they will pay in taxes next year without a fiscal-cliff deal by Jan. 1.

“It’s that much higher?” asked IT worker Vikas Kataria, 34, who discovered that his combined household income of about $250,000 per year will cost him nearly $10,000 more in taxes.

“I thought it was a couple thousand — but that’s a lot,” said Kataria, who works at Merrill Lynch in Manhattan and is married to a systems analyst for a brokerage firm. “That’s huge!”…

“What am I supposed to do, work harder?” Hagon said. “I don’t want to find myself in front of my store dead with a heart attack!”

***

Whether or not a Senate deal can be reached is anyone’s guess, though it seems unlikely considering all the false starts that have characterized negotiations up to this point. Whether McConnell would allow for an up-or-down vote on a Democratic-authored bill is even less certain. On Friday evening, Reid’s office announced that it was preparing such a bill for a Monday vote as a contingency plan…

[A White House] official argued that any final deal that emerged from the Senate would have to be crafted with an eye toward garnering Democratic support in the House. Reid, after all, wouldn’t sign off on a bill that set the threshold for tax hikes too high. And since Boehner’s failed “Plan B” proposal showed he was unable to pass legislation raising rates only on millionaires, Democratic votes in both chambers would be needed.

“Whatever McConnell and Reid cook up is something that Nancy Pelosi has to support,” the official said. “The Minority Leader will have a powerful role in these discussions.”

***

The last-minute tax and spending deal being discussed in the Senate would do little to reduce the deficit, and could actually expand it, leaving difficult choices about Medicare, Social Security, and the country’s borrowing limit until next year…

This weekend, with talks moving closer to the deadline, the only item being discussed that would reduce the deficit is a White House proposal to let the Bush-era tax cuts expire for upper-income households. White House officials believe raising tax rates on income above $250,000, combined with changes in capital-gains, dividend, and estate-tax rules, would raise roughly $950 billion over 10 years, a level that is short of their $1.2 trillion goal. That means the White House is likely to try and pursue more tax increases as part of any subsequent budget debate in 2013…

The other items being discussed as part of the slimmed-down package would cost the government. One would extend emergency unemployment benefits for one year, at a cost of roughly $30 billion. Another would prevent Medicare payments to doctors from being cut close to 27%. This change would cost another $10 billion, according to estimates.

***

The big-ticket item hanging over the Reid-McConnell talks will be the income level at which taxes can rise. Boehner failed to win sufficient GOP support for a plan to increase taxes for income over $1 million, and Obama has previously upped his offer from $250,000 to $400,000. McConnell and Reid are also trying to agree on the level to set taxes on estates that are transferred after the death of an owner.

At the meeting, Boehner made clear any efforts to eliminate pending cuts to defense and domestic programs — about $109 billion next year — must be replaced by spending cuts to other programs. Republicans later said it appeared that the so-called sequester would not be addressed in a final agreement. A final deal appears unlikely to include an increase of the $16.4 trillion national debt limit, which will be reached on Monday, meaning that Congress will almost certainly renew the battle over taxes and spending immediately in the new year.

***

Multiple GOP lawmakers indicated that their goal now is to get through the fiscal cliff standoff one way or another, at which point Republicans can regroup and focus their efforts on extracting concessions from the White House in exchange for a debt-limit boost.

“Give the president whatever he wants [on taxes],” Grassley said hypothetically. “All it covers is somewhere between eight and 12 percent of the $1.1 trillion deficit.

“When you get beyond this fiscal cliff deal, the public starts looking at what we’re trying to do to cut down on spending as opposed to increasing taxes, that strengthens our hand,” he added.

A House GOP aide said the debt limit provides a “natural venue” for Republicans to continue to push for preferred fiscal policies, once the fiscal cliff is in the rearview mirror.

***

“A top Obama administration official” told The Huffington Post that “they don’t view an unresolved debt ceiling fight as too generous a concession because, as a matter of principle, the president will not negotiate with Republicans over raising it down the road.”…

If Obama drops the debt ceiling demand, he’s setting the stage for another round of budget talks in late February, during which the GOP will demand long-term spending reforms in exchange for an immediate increase in the debt ceiling.

***

A pair of GOP senators, confident Congress will head off the tax hikes set to kick in within days, are already turning their attention to entitlements and the debt ceiling.

Tennessee Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander pitched a plan on Friday to cut federal spending by $1 trillion — much of it from Medicare — in exchange for increasing the nation’s borrowing limit by that amount. The plan would raise the Medicare eligibly age to 67 and require wealthier Medicare users to pay higher premiums. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has estimated extraordinary measures can push the necessity of Congress addressing the debt ceiling until perhaps February.

“Here we are on Dec. 29 without a serious proposal before us to deal with the biggest issue, which is entitlements,” Corker said. “There’s been a lot of discussions about figuring out a way to deal with the … revenue side and at least getting that portion out of the way. Since we know it’s going to happen either before the 31st or after.”

***

Cliff-jumping also would mean that instead of spending the early weeks of January laying out big plans for a second-term agenda, Obama and his staff will be bogged down with negotiations over the myriad issues wrapped up in the cliff, including everything from the tax cuts and across-the-board spending cuts to the alternative minimum tax and the “doc fix,” the formula under which physicians receive reimbursement for treating Medicare patients. In the White House’s preferred scenario, a deal addressing key elements of the fiscal cliff would have been clinched by the end of this year and that could have been used to tee up negotiations in 2013 over a grand bargain on the budget. Obama has set a goal of reaching a long-term budget deal by the first half of next year and hopes to notch up an agreement as part of his legacy.

Not only will the grand-bargain discussions need to await an eventual resolution of the fiscal cliff, but other items on Obama’s second-term agenda risk getting pushed to the back burner, too, including gun control and immigration.

***

“I think everyone is trying to look busy, so when we go over, they can say, well, we tried,” Brooks said. “He came back from Hawaii. He had to do something. And so they had a meeting. If you don’t have new offers, you are not really making progress. You could have a nice frank exchange, but they are in the business of making a deal. And there is really, as far as we know, no real evidence that they moved. So I remain convinced, as I have been, that we are probably going to go over.”

***

Under the most likely scenario, Republicans will get nothing — nothing — in return for giving in on tax rates for the highest-income Americans. No spending cuts, at least no serious spending cuts beyond what are already included in sequestration, would be part of the deal done on Sunday or Monday, if that is indeed what happens…

As for spending cuts, particularly in entitlements, some Senate Republicans say they will press for those in January or February, during the coming battle over raising the nation’s debt ceiling. They believe that fight will give them leverage to extract real concessions from the White House and Democrats on spending. It’s not entirely clear why they believe that so strongly; Republicans will certainly take a beating in the press if they appear ready to push the nation toward default to win unpopular cuts. Nevertheless, some in the GOP are readying themselves for that fight…

So a deal will most likely be done. But the bottom line is that the fiscal cliff fight will not end happily for Republicans. They will have given in on what was an article of faith — that taxes should not be raised on anybody, poor or rich — in return for essentially nothing. All they will have is a plan to fight again, soon.

***

It’s difficult to find a Republican operative who is willing to say on the record that going over the fiscal cliff next Tuesday is a good idea. Provoking a crisis is bad politics: Republicans are resigned to taking the blame. And it’s bad for their policy agenda: They will likely be cornered into a broader tax hike than the best deal they could get from President Barack Obama today, and with none of the spending cuts that might now be on the table.

And yet, the dominant emotion among most Republicans here is one of sheer resignation.

“It’s a shit show,” one prominent Republican told BuzzFeed of the GOP’s messaging position. “Tax rates are going to go up on everyone, and we’re going to get the blame.”

***

Congress can prevent it from happening, if they act now. Leaders in Congress are working on a way to prevent this tax hike on the middle class, and I believe we may be able to reach an agreement that can pass both houses in time.

But if an agreement isn’t reached in time, then I’ll urge the Senate to hold an up-or-down vote on a basic package that protects the middle class from an income tax hike, extends vital unemployment insurance for Americans looking for a job, and lays the groundwork for future progress on more economic growth and deficit reduction.

I believe such a proposal could pass both houses with bipartisan majorities – as long as these leaders allow it to come to a vote.

***

The Republican-controlled House has taken a step in the right direction. The House has already passed bills to protect all Americans from burdensome tax increases. In addition, they’ve passed legislation to replace damaging across-the-board spending cuts with responsible targeted ones, and to bring our nation’s record debt under control. But instead of working across the aisle and considering the House-passed plan to protect taxpayers, Senate Democrats have spent months drawing partisan lines in the sand.

The President’s proposal to raise taxes on the top 2 percent of Americans won’t even pay one-third of the annual interest that’s now owed on this massive $16 trillion debt. In fact, the President’s tax hike would only fund the government for eight days. Americans deserve to know: What does the President propose we do for the other 357 days of the year?


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