WASHINGTON — The members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation remain unsure if a compromise on the “fiscal cliff” is possible before the end of the year.
The House is expected to vote Thursday on Republican “Plan B” counterproposals by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. “Plan B” concedes income taxes will increase on millionaires, but not those making less income. White House officials already have said President Barack Obama would veto such legislation.
Obama, who originally proposed extending tax cuts for all households making less than $250,000 a year, has agreed to increase the threshold to $400,000, but Republicans have balked at that revised plan. Obama’s plan also involves close to $1 trillion in budget cuts, and also makes the concession of slowing inflationary rates for Social Security benefits.
While both sides are getting closer, a sizable gap remains and any potential compromise is now unlikely until after Christmas.
The fiscal cliff involves $500 billion in tax hikes and across-the-board budget cuts in defense and non-discretionary spending that will slowly begin to take place on Jan. 1 unless Congress acts. This equates to an average increase in taxes of $2,200 for middle-class wage earners, according to the White House, or up to $3,500 for the average American household, based on a recent Tax Policy Center analysis.
Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, said Obama is showing a strong willingness to compromise, but Republicans are countering with unrealistic proposals that amount to political posturing.
“These examples show why we can’t get anything done in Congress,” said Richmond, whose newly drawn district also will include much of Baton Rouge and its suburbs beginning Jan. 2.
Richmond said Boehner is “trying to placate to the tea-party wing of the party. It’s unfortunate we can’t come together and get it done.”
But some Republican members of the Louisiana delegation say they are unlikely to even support Boehner’s counterproposal.
“I don’t support any plan that raises taxes on anybody,” said Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson.
Scalise said he still supports the plan approved in August, which continued the Bush-era tax cuts for everyone. But that plan failed to win in the U.S. Senate.
Rep. John Fleming, R-Minden, largely agreed with Scalise.
“At this point, I’m opposed to voting for any tax increase,” Fleming said. “The problem is spending, not revenues.”
Fleming said the U.S. House votes on Boehner’s “Plan B” are about leverage and “will not make it into law anyway.”
One issue for the seven Republican members of the Louisiana delegation is they all signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge not to support any tax increases. The pledge was the brainchild of the national group Americans for Tax Reform and its founder and president, Grover Norquist.
ATR announced Wednesday that it is not considering Republican support of “Plan B” as violation of the tax pledge.
“Republicans supporting this bill are this week affirming to their constituents in writing that this bill — the sole purpose of which is to prevent tax increases — is consistent with the pledge they made to them,” the ATR statement read.
However, other influential groups that describe themselves as conservative, such as the Club for Growth and the Heritage Foundation, are urging Republicans to oppose Boehner’s latest proposals.
Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, was quick to note ATR’s new stance, but he said he is still unsure on how he will vote. “There’s a lot to digest,” he said.
“I’m concerned about tax increases for anyone,” Boustany said. “We’re trying to do everything we can to minimize the effect.”
Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, said he supports protecting “as many taxpayers as possible” from tax hikes, but that he is not going to consider potentially allowing tax breaks to expire for a small percentage of Americans a deal breaker if he can support most of the rest of what is included in any possible deal.
Cassidy said he can support a “pro-growth package” that involves things like reining in Medicare and Medicaid spending, but that he will judge any proposal in its entirety.
“I’m not trying to be coy,” Cassidy said. “But there may be one thing that’s a deal breaker in a package but is not in another.”
Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, who is battling the flu this week, responded in an email statement without offering specifics on his stance. He insisted that a deal must be made.
“I believe it is essential that Congress and the president reach an agreement that provides tax relief for as many Americans as possible, and that substantially reduces spending in a responsible manner,” Alexander stated. “The worst thing that Congress can do in this case is nothing.”
The only thing that Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., is sure of is that a deal is taking far too long. “The negotiations are, unfortunately, going very slowly, which is why I don’t plan to go anywhere for New Year’s,” she said.
Landrieu said she is “flexible” on the income threshold for tax hikes but that Republicans must agree to additional revenues.
One thing she will not concede, she said, is allowing an increase of the federal estate tax. Lowered estate tax rates also are set to expire as part of the fiscal cliff.
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., declined comment for this story.
One area on which Republican and Democratic leaders seem to agree is allowing for the expiration of the temporary payroll tax cuts Obama pushed for two years ago. So that one tax hike is virtually assured.
Obama told reporters Wednesday that it is time for the Republicans to make more realistic compromises. A deal is feasible, he said, “if you kind of peel off the partisan war paint.”
“It is a deal that can get done,” Obama said. “But it is not going to be — it cannot be done if every side wants 100 percent. And part of what voters were looking for is some compromise up here. That’s what folks want.”
Obama said he backed off the $250,000 income tax threshold that he campaigned on and that he is proposing difficult budget cuts. “I have gone at least halfway in meeting some of the Republicans’ concerns,” he said.
But Obama argued Boehner’s counteroffer actually increases taxes on millions of lower- and middle-class families because it does not include an extension of the federal unemployment insurance.
“If you’re making $900,000, somehow he thinks that you can’t afford to pay a little more in taxes,” Obama said. “But the principle that rates are going to need to go up he’s conceded.”
But Republicans continued to argue Wednesday that Obama is not truly compromising himself.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor that Obama is letting his window to make a deal shrink.
“He has a real opportunity to show he can govern,” McConnell said. “He’s letting that opportunity slip away.”