Courier Staff Writer
The Ottumwa area’s representative to the U.S. House of Representatives says the “fiscal cliff” fiasco is an embarrassment — and isn’t even close to being over.
“What we have seen take place in Washington ... in the past few days, is nothing short of unconscionable,” said Second District Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa City.
In a Wednesday phone call from Washington, he told the Courier that back in 2011, he had voted against the Budget Control Act because he was worried about tax cuts that would indiscriminately cut programs, good or bad, military or civilian. He also worried, he said, that Washington bickering would keep the issue from being discussed.
“These are cuts across the budget that would kick in automatically. I called them unthinking cuts.”
The last-minute bill he agreed to sign Tuesday night stops those cuts — for two months. Loebsack also expressed concern over the Farm Bill, which would have expired without a replacement bill. The current farm bill has been extended by nine months.
“Then on top of that, the Bush tax rates ended,” Loebsack said.
Those were decent tax rates, he said, which provided far better support for working, middle-class families than had been available under President Bill Clinton.
“I voted for [the temporary fix] because my concern has been all along that the middle-class tax cuts did not expire,” he said, adding that just as the nation recovers from a recession is not the best time to cut everyone’s paycheck. “I voted for it — [but] I don’t think anybody I’ve talked to on either side of the aisle thinks this is the be all and end all. I have [concerns] that need to be [addressed].”
One concern closer to home is for every Iowan who receives a paycheck. Trudy Caviness, chairwoman of the Wapello County Republican Party and a business owner, said despite what national media is focusing on, Iowans will see a 2 percent bite taken out of their total pay starting with their next check.
“If they hadn’t passed this crisis bill, it would have been worse,” she said.
The 2 percent had been a decrease in the amount of FICA Social Security tax Americans pay. Part of the “fiscal cliff,” she said, was the ending of that 2 percent decrease. And this bill didn’t address that.
She also shook her head when she saw something added to the crisis bill: more spending. She explained that without a budget passed, legislators who want a project funded have no way to do that without tacking their financial request onto another bill. They tacked those appropriations onto the crisis bill. She saw one add-on calling for several million dollars worth of rum.
“If we’re going to get out of the mess our country is in and our economy is in, we’ve got to cut out spending,” Caviness said.
Whatever our nation is going to do, both she and the Loebsack said, is going to require people who disagree with each other to have a civil conversation.
“Congress and the president must meet to discuss how we will prevent our economy from sliding backwards and how best to resolve our long-term deficit and debt problem,” Loebsack said.
He said he was upset that the issues had to wait until the last few days of the year to get in-depth discussion.
“This [situation is] due to what I [say is] the ‘beyond dysfunction’ of Washington.”
But who in Washington? Everyone deserves part of the blame for not getting on the ball, but, said Loebsack, “the leadership of both parties and the president” were the ones who needed to see that the file was introduced onto the House floor a lot sooner.
“It’s politics,” said Loebsack. “Politics. The parties not trusting one another. Not willing to sit down and have a [frank] discussion because of that mistrust.”
So the leadership and the president are focused on the subject now, right?
“It’s uncertain if they are. I’m not certain. But I’m going to do everything I can to keep them focused on this. What I’m saying is there’s no time to delay. Congress and the president have to talk about this now so we can deal with getting this economy [back on track] and getting people back to work.”
In a press release from his office, Loebsack wrote, “I look forward to hearing from Iowans in the coming weeks about how we can best address these issues. We must lay the groundwork for long-term economic prosperity for hardworking Iowans who want nothing more than to provide a decent life for themselves and their families.”