Over the past couple of months, Americans have heard plenty of discussion over what would happen if Congress allowed the U.S. to plunge over the much-ballyhooed “fiscal cliff.” Some politicians and pundits were inclined to let it happen and thus force the hands of Congress and the administration. Others predicted economic collapse, perhaps on a global scale.
But now that a last-minute deal has been brokered, all but a few on the extreme ends of the spectrum agree Congress did the right thing, even if under less-than-ideal circumstances.
The most important accomplishment was to ensure the Bush era tax cuts on the middle class did not expire. In fact, they did expire, albeit briefly, but however it’s parsed, the tax cuts are now “permanent.” And since the middle class – and not the ultra-wealthy – is the backbone of the U.S. economy, the relief should also offer some stabilization. Indeed, the stock markets reacted positively to the news.
In the end, only one member of Oklahoma’s delegation – Republican Congressman James Lankford – voted against the bill. “Aye” votes came from the others: GOP Sens. Tom Coburn and Jim Inhofe, and Republican Reps. Tom Cole, Frank Lucas and John Sullivan, as well as Democrat Dan Boren, soon to be replaced by Republican Markwayne Mullin.
To be sure, there are aspects of the bill some in Congress – and the public – don’t like. As with any other bill, this one was loaded with pork from both parties. Rum producers will continue to enjoy their $13-per-gallon kickback, which mainly helps Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Electric scooter riders get tax credits of up to 10 percent of the purchase of the cost of their vehicles. Algae and asparagus growers can again take in $59 million in tax credits, ostensibly because they’re trying to work on new biofuels. Hollywood movie makers for the big screen and TV can collect $15 million for keeping productions on U.S. soil, especially in low-income areas. And finally, race track owners can deduct more than $40 billion for capital improvements, and NASCAR and other outfits can continue writing off maintenance costs, under certain conditions.
Other parts of the bill are generally seen in a positive light. Individuals earning more than $400,000, and couples making more than $450,000, will now be paying closer to what most Americans believe is their “fair share” of the tax burden. Several tax credits were maintained that have been a boon to low- to middle-income wage earners, especially those with kids. The Alternative Minimum Tax, designed to prevent extremely wealthy Americans from wiggling through loopholes to avoid taxes, has lately been threatening the middle class, and a new “inflation patch” will help prevent that. Certain business tax credits should stimulate the economy, and a 27 percent cut in Medicare reimbursements to doctors has been staved off. Long-term jobless benefits were also extended, although an end will eventually have to come to this particular “entitlement.”
Although the Obama administration has conceded to some spending cuts, for many in Congress, that’s not enough to reign in the national deficit. The trick was to balance what’s needed to keep the economy healthy today, with what’s needed to maintain it in the future. The smartest politicians realized they had to start with the basics.
Coburn looked at the situation with a pragmatic eye, as he often does when up against the wall. He candidly admitted the rich should pay more, but he wants more spending cuts, too, and he objected to the “tax goodies for special groups.” He sagely observed: “You have people calling for fairness, but they want to protect the wealthy or their supporters. And that’s on both sides of the issue.”
A bit more surprising was the “yes” vote from Inhofe, who said he’s pleased about the permanence of the tax cuts for the middle class, and that the bill included an extension to the Farm Bill, and warded off military cuts that would have automatically kicked in without the fiscal cliff measure.
Whatever their motives this week, and their eventual positions on other related matters, Coburn and Inhofe and their peers in the House should be commended for finally reaching across the partisan aisle and voting for the bill. But the most admirable actions came from Cole, one of the first Republicans to come out publicly with his sensible plea to protect the middle class.
Bloomberg Television quoted Cole as pithily saying, “Let’s accept the wins that we have and live to fight another day.” That’s the voice of compromise – the way politics is supposed to work.