Local Delegation Talks of Next Move

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Local members of Congress expressed frustration Monday at lawmakers’ failure to fully address the fiscal cliff as 2012 came to a close.

Some in the public, meanwhile, see the lack of cooperation in Washington as a sign of dysfunctional government.

But “dysfunctional” – meaning not “operating normally or properly” or “deviating from the norms of social behavior in a way regarded as bad” – isn’t the best term to describe Congress at this time, according to Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

“I think ‘broken’ is a more accurate term,” he said. “And when something is broken, you fix it. I’m committed to playing a positive part in fixing this broken Congress.”

As of midnight Monday, 2 percent tax cuts for all Americans in effect since the administration of President George W. Bush expired. The tax cuts represent about $536 billion annually.

In addition, mandatory across the board cuts in federal spending equaling about $110 billion were set to slash the budgets of most federal departments – including the Department of Defense.

The deal reached in the Senate only addresses tax cuts – maintaining them for Americans who earn less than $400,000 a year. It does not make changes to avoid the automatic spending cuts.

Manchin introduced his “Cliff Alleviation at the Last Minute” or CALM Act on Sunday evening. It suggested a sloping formula for assessing income taxes.

“It’s not clear when the next vote will be, but I’ll be here doing my job for the people of West Virginia,” Manchin said. “Spending will have to be addressed because it’s an important part of the ‘big fix.’ That’s why all along I’ve pushed strongly for the Simpson-Bowles framework for deficit reduction.

“I introduced the CALM Act only as a compassionate alternative to going over the fiscal cliff. If we’re going over the cliff, doesn’t it make sense to smooth it into a slope to soften the landing? We can do a ‘big fix’ any time we want, but it’s going to take more political courage than I’ve seen so far.”

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, meanwhile, asked Obama to withdraw his recent executive order raising federal salaries for 2013 – including those for members of Congress.

“At a time when our country is facing record debt and trillion-dollar deficits, the last thing Washington should do is reward itself with a pay increase … ” Portman said. “Until a long-term deficit reduction agreement is reached, we should not consider increasing the pay for Congress.”

He added it was frustrating to see Washington approach a fiscal cliff that is avoidable.

“It would be irresponsible, however, to avoid the fiscal cliff with higher taxes that go to higher spending and results in no deficit reduction – as the last Senate Democratic offer reportedly does,” Portman said. “I cannot support more spending at a time of record debt and deficits.”

He said he will push for a solution that does three things: reduces the deficit rather than adding to it; keeps middle class taxes from going up and doesn’t impose significant new tax burdens on small business job creators; and sets in motion a process to deal with the underlying problems through pro-growth tax reform and reform of the important but unsustainable entitlement programs.

In the House, Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, said members sit poised waiting for the Senate to act.

“The House passed legislation months ago that would avoid the fiscal cliff – legislation that would keep taxes lower for all Americans, stop massive cuts to America’s military from happening, and begin to address America’s most pressing fiscal problem, out of control spending,” he said.

Rep. David B. McKinley, R-W.Va., agreed.

“It’s frustrating it has come to this stalemate just hours before the end of the year,” he said. “The House has passed two bills that could have avoided this situation, both of which continue to sit in the Senate.”