By CARL SMITH
As congressmen return to work today in lieu of any potential Senate action to avert “fiscal cliff” tax increases and austerity measures, Rep. Gregg Harper says he is hopeful a deal can be reached in time but he is not overly optimistic.
Senate leaders met Saturday for last-minute talks to avoid middle-class tax increases and prevent deep spending cuts. President Barack Obama warned failure could mean a “self-inflicted wound to the economy.”
In the party’s weekly address, Republican Sen. Roy Blount of Missouri hinted that senators are ready to compromise, saying, “We cannot let Washington politics get in the way of America’s progress.”
While Congress works to reach an 11th-hour deal, Harper said political games have led to the situation the country is facing.
“I am not overly optimistic that this Senate will act in time to get something to us that will avert this fiscal cliff. The House passed a bill that extended all tax rates as they are now back in August, but the Senate has not touched it since,” Harper said. “We’ll be there to respond to anything the Senate might do. It’s possible (to reach a deal), but I see nothing from Sen. Harry Reid or the president (that says they don’t) want us to go over for their own political gain. I believe political gain is more important to the president and Senate-led Democrats than it is on the House side.”
“There’s no doubt that Senate Democrats and the president have a desire to take over the House in two years,” Harper said, speaking about the current blame game in play. “That appears to be their game plan, but it’s certainly harmful to the country.”
The main divisions between the two political sides are over revenue and spending, with lawmakers sparring over possible tax hikes and cuts to entitlement programs.
“We did not get here because of a lack of revenue. We got here because of spending issues,” Harper said. “There are ways to increase revenue without increasing tax rates, but we’ve got to be willing to look at spending reductions. At the heart of this is what we do with mandatory entitlement spending. We have programs people like right now that might not be around in the future.”
If the country does go over the “fiscal cliff,” Harper said he’s hopeful Congress can create stop-gap agreements which will allow more time to work on a deal.
“The first thing you’ll see (after going over the “fiscal cliff”) is everyone who pays taxes will see less money in their paychecks. You’ll also see small business owners with less money to expand their businesses, which means they’ll be less likely to add employees,” Harper said. “As regulations begin to take shape under ‘Obamacare,’ you could see businesses contemplating layoffs. That perception can be very damaging, and consumer confidence can plummet very quickly.”
“Folks we see, whether it’s in churches or stores — our neighbors and friends — know this is a serious issue,” he added. “Everyone is rightfully preoccupied and concerned.”
Marty Wiseman, director of the John C. Stennis Institute of Government and Community Development, said the average American could see an additional $150 to $200 taken our of his or her paycheck due to increased taxes.
“If I had to guess, what you’re going to see is we’ll go over the ‘cliff’ for about three to five days until Congress organizes. Then about mid-January, they’ll come up with a short-term fix that nobody likes but at least keeps taxes from going up on most,” he said. “They’ll pass it then, but nobody will like it.”