Casey, Barletta toe their party's lines
As the country seemed headed over the "fiscal cliff" Friday, local congressmen on opposite sides of the political aisle held to solutions that echoed their leaders.
Pass the tax bill the Democratic-led Senate already passed, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, said.
Pass the tax bill the Republican-led House already passed, U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, a Republican, said.
Neither seemed overly hopeful about a resolution, even before a mid-afternoon meeting among President Barack Obama and House and Senate Republican and Democratic leaders.
"I always try to remain hopeful, but the honest answer is I think it's more likely that there's not an agreement than ... there would be," Casey said.
"I haven't been in Washington a long time, but in my short experience ... standard procedure in dealing with any of these tough issues is it's usually last-minute," Barletta said. "And then you're forced to vote for something that's not even good policy, but the alternative is worse for the country. And it seems like that's the direction we're heading again."
The term fiscal cliff refers to the combination of the end of the Bush-era tax cuts and automatic across-the-board spending cuts that will both go into effect Jan. 1. Economists say allowing that to happen could thrust the nation back into recession. Many analysts believe Congress, even if it misses the New Year's Day deadline, will come to its senses in January and pass a solution.
The Senate bill, passed in July, would allow tax rates to rise on wages, capital gains and dividends for earnings of more than $250,000, meaning rates would stay the same for earnings below that even for the wealthy.
Under that bill, Bush-era tax cuts would be extended for 98 percent of taxpayers, Casey said.
"Let's not let the House hold middle-income families hostage to a debate about the top 2 percent," he said. "It's wrong. It's not only bad for those families, but it's bad for the economy."
If nothing else, Casey said, delay the automatic across-the-board cuts sure to hurt many worthy programs and wait to cut spending in a smart, disciplined and balanced way.
"The problem with the (fiscal cliff) is not only the substantial nature of it, but the arbitrary nature of it," he said.
The House bill, which Barletta and U.S. Rep. Tom Marino supported, would extend the Bush-era tax cuts another year.
Barletta said he would have supported House Speaker John Boehner's "Plan B" solution to the fiscal cliff. Its main piece was continuing the Bush tax cuts on everyone who earns less than $1 million but allowing them to expire on incomes above that.
Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said he lacked the votes from members in his own party to get that bill passed. Unable to get any Democratic help, he canceled a vote on the bill two weeks ago.
Casey criticized the dynamic as the work of conservative House Republicans elected in 2010.
"And for whatever reason, Speaker Boehner doesn't seem to be able to able to negotiate for his side. And if you don't have a leader who can do that, it makes it very hard to get things done," the senator said.
Barletta, who was elected in 2010, had a different take on what happened. He would have voted for Plan B, but Democrats balked at it.
"What the public didn't get an opportunity to see is I think there's a large majority of our conference that would agree to raise taxes on millionaires and billionaires," he said. "There were some, obviously, that did not want to and we weren't going to get any Democrat votes so we had to carry it ourselves. And that's where the problem came with Plan B."
He also acknowledged he wanted to see more spending cuts attached to it.
"I don't believe we should take more money from taxpayers and send it to Washington just so they could spend the money," he said. "I believe it's a short-term fix and we'll be looking for more money if we do that."
Efforts to reach Marino, R-10, Lycoming Twp., and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey were unsuccessful.