U.S. lawmakers are back from their Thanksgiving holiday break, and now
have less than five weeks to negotiate a deal to prevent massive tax
increases and deep spending cuts - known as the "fiscal cliff" - that
will automatically take effect January 1. President Barack Obama is set
to make his case to middle class Americans on higher taxes for the
wealthy, as negotiations resume behind closed doors on Capitol Hill.
Democratic Senator Dick Durbin gave a speech on averting the fiscal
cliff Tuesday at the Center for American Progress, a research institute,
in Washington. Durbin called on Republicans in the House of
Representatives to vote on a measure already passed by the Senate, that
would prevent Bush-era tax cuts from expiring on most Americans, and
only allow taxes to go up on incomes above $250,000 a year.
"With one vote, they can really avert the fiscal cliff for 98 percent of
American families, at least when it comes to income taxes," said Durbin.
President Obama and congressional Democrats say the wealthiest Americans
can afford to pay higher tax rates to help reign in American's
trillion-dollar federal deficit. But Republicans oppose raising the tax
rates for anyone and say what is needed is serious reform to
entitlements - social programs for the elderly and the poor that
Democrats strongly defend. Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch
McConnell said entitlements are threatening the nation's economic future
and must be reformed to remain viable.
"We all know that the most critical steps to be taken are to save the
entitlements, which are on an unsustainable path to bankruptcy," said
Durbin conceded that progressive Democrats need to include social
programs as part of any comprehensive solution to tackling the U.S.
"Which means we need to be open to some topics, and some issues that are
painful and hard for us to talk about," he said.
But Durbin made clear he believes that a major reform of social programs
should not be part of a deal crafted by the end of the year to avert the
fiscal cliff, but be taken up next year.
the president prepared for a trip Wednesday to Pennsylvania to press his
case before factory workers, Senator McConnell urged him to "stop
campaigning" and take the lead on negotiations.
“So we’ll continue to wait on the president, and hope that he has what
it takes to bring people together to forge a compromise. If he does,
we’ll get there. If he doesn’t, we won’t. It’s that simple," he said.
Senator Durbin said he is optimistic the fiscal cliff can be averted,
and that next year, lawmakers can agree on a major overhaul of
government spending and taxes, that will send a strong signal to the
world that the U.S. economy is strong.
For now, there is no deal in sight, and White House staff members are
meeting with staff members of Republican House Speaker John Boehner to
discuss the tough issues of taxes and spending.