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Congressional Leaders Make Opening Statements in Budget Debate

Congressional Leaders Make Opening Statements in Budget Debate

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - November 9, 2012

By electing a divided Congress and sending Barack Obama back to the White House, voters have indicated that increased revenues must be part of a bipartisan bargain to avoid the looming fiscal cliff, a leading Senate Democrat said Thursday.

Since neither side “ran the table” in congressional elections, “I think it’s pretty clear that [voters] said, ‘Come to a compromise, get a handle on spending, but raise some revenues,’ ” Sen. Chuck Schumer told reporters at an event hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. The New York lawmaker said Congress needs to seize the political moment and strike a so-called grand bargain during the upcoming lame-duck session while sentiment supporting such action -- as reflected by Tuesday’s exit polling -- is still fresh.

As Washington prepares to get back to business after a divisive election season, congressional leaders are making opening statements of sorts in what will likely be a difficult legislative process to avert the $600 billion bundle of tax increases and across-the-board budget cuts set to kick in at year’s end.

The president’s re-election does grant him some leverage in the negotiations. Obama pegged his candidacy, in part, to a call for high-income earners to pay more in taxes in order to reduce the deficit. Exit polling this week found 60 percent of voters support that notion, and nearly half specifically back Obama’s proposal to let higher-end tax cuts expire on Dec. 31. Schumer interpreted those results to mean a majority endorsement for the president’s economic plan. The 2010 elections that swept scores of Republicans into the House of Representatives and awarded John Boehner the speaker’s gavel sent a message to Democrats to control government spending, Schumer said. But voter behavior on Tuesday indicated Americans want a balanced approach to deficit reduction that includes both spending cuts and revenue increases, he asserted.

Democrats also expanded their majority in the Senate, and the president has an ally in Majority Leader Harry Reid. In a press briefing Wednesday, the Nevada lawmaker agreed that voters’ choice of a split legislature calls for compromise. “It’s better to dance than to fight. Everything doesn’t have to be a fight,” he said. But, he also cautioned, “you can’t push us around.”

Boehner cracked open the door to a deal that would include increased revenue, but only in the context of tax reform and if it is linked to cuts in spending and entitlement programs. “For purposes of forging a bipartisan agreement that begins to solve the problem, we’re willing to accept new revenue, under the right conditions. What matters is where the increased revenue comes from, and what type of reform comes with it,” Boehner said on Capitol Hill. “Shoring up entitlements and reforming the tax code -- closing special-interest loopholes and deductions, and moving to a fairer, simpler system -- will bring jobs home and result in a stronger, healthier economy. . . . Tax reform, done in the manner I've described, will result in the additional revenue the president seeks.”

The speaker then kicked the ball back to Obama. “Mr. President, this is your moment. We're ready to be led, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans. We want you to lead -- not as a liberal or a conservative, but as the president of the United States of America. We want you to succeed.”

Boehner’s tone and message were far removed from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s professed goal four years ago to make Obama a one-term president. Congress returns to Washington on Tuesday with the same problems it has long faced but with a greater sense of urgency. Though the economy continues to slowly recover, unemployment hovers around 8 percent and uncertainty among the business community remains. Inaction by Congress would have a serious impact on the fragile economy; with the president now re-elected and Democrats holding an expanded majority in the Senate, Republicans could find themselves in a corner.

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Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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