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House Speaker John Boehner (left) and President Barack Obama at a White House meeting in November
Associated Press/Photo by Carolyn Kaster
House Speaker John Boehner (left) and President Barack Obama at a White House meeting in November

Going over the cliff?

Congress | Some fiscal conservative lawmakers say that missing the fiscal cliff deadline might not be a bad idea

WASHINGTON—Even though President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner met for less than an hour at the White House Thursday evening, talks on a fiscal cliff deal remain stalled with less than three weeks remaining until the series of tax hikes and spending cuts hit.

But some fiscally conservative congressional lawmakers, in the midst of the impasse between the leaders of both parties, are suggesting that going over the fiscal cliff—at least temporarily—may not be such a bad thing.

“A bad deal is worse than no deal at all,” said Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo. “You can’t turn on the television or the radio right now without hearing about the fiscal cliff as if it is the equivalent of the Mayan calendar on the 21st of December. It is not. So I would rather see if cooler heads can prevail in January.”

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Skeptical that the deadlock at the top can be solved, many lawmakers are returning to their home states for the weekend—a sign that any specific proposal that can be debated on Capitol Hill is a long way off.

“I am hearing from more and more people that the only way we are going to get spending cuts is to go off the cliff,” said Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa. “Then if we all go off the cliff together at least we will break the mold and get some real cuts for a change.”

According to published reports of the closed-door negotiations, Speaker Boehner is proposing $800 billion revenue increases coupled with $1 trillion in cuts to federal spending. Meanwhile, President Obama and the Democrats are offering just $600 billion in entitlement cuts to go along with $1.4 trillion in tax hikes.

But the House’s group of fiscal conservatives noted this week that neither proposal cuts into the federal government’s debt problems.

“It is just like a grain of sand on the beach,” said Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C.

The lawmakers representing this voting bloc have noted that both leadership proposals to avoid the fiscal cliff ultimately increase the nation’s debt (with the Republican plan just increasing it less). Boehner will not be able to rely on these lawmakers—many of whom are wrapping up their first term in Congress—when it comes to any vote on a future fiscal cliff deal.

“It is ridiculous for Republicans to be accepting increased [tax] rates until we have real cuts in spending,” said Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho.

Rep. Jeff Landry is a Republican from Louisiana who has spoken publicly this week about his dismay with the ways of Congress. He said lawmakers agreed to set this fiscal cliff deadline as part of the deal to raise the debt ceiling in August 2011. In essence, lawmakers kicked the can down the road concerning the nation’s fast approaching entitlement spending crisis so that that any hard decisions would be made after the election. But now lawmakers are trying to delay once again.

“We got some cuts that they don’t like,” Rep. Landry said. “People voted for the debt ceiling deal. If they read the bill and they knew what they were voting on then they knew that those cuts would be implemented. And now they are complaining about those particular cuts. I don’t understand what goes on this town. No one holds people accountable for the way that they vote.”

As the bulk of lawmakers, such as these fiscal conservatives, remain on the outside looking in when it comes to the details of any plan, some of them are worried that rushing a bill over the year’s final few weeks will not be in the best interests of the nation. Any deal done later next year, they argue, could be applied retroactively.

“Nothing good in this town happens between Thanksgiving and New Year’s,” warned Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., at a recent luncheon with other fiscal conservatives.

“I think the window is probably a little larger than that,” shot back Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan.

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee is WORLD's Washington Bureau chief. As a reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, he was embedded with a National Guard unit in Iraq. He also once worked in the press office of Sen. Lamar Alexander.

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