Congressman Jeff Fortenberry holds out hope that a step can be taken to address the nation’s financial problems even as time runs out on the lame-duck session.
Fortenberry, though, doesn’t see a lot of progress toward heading off automatic budget cuts and an increase in taxes set to take effect at the end of the year.
“I hope that something will be done in the lame-duck session,” Fortenberry tells Nebraska Radio Network. “I was hopeful that after the election there might be a renewed spirit of cooperation since you’re no longer dealing with a lot of time here. You’re almost down to a matter of hours to be frank.”
The nation heads toward the “fiscal cliff” with seemingly little progress in Washington to reach an agreement to keep Bush-era tax cuts from expiring and deep, automatic budget cuts from going into effect.
Economists coined the term “fiscal cliff” to describe what a $400 billion tax increase combined with $100 billion in budget cuts would do to the economy. The combination, according to those economists, would drive the economy over a fiscal cliff and back into recession.
President Obama has insisted that a tax increase on those making more than $250,000 annually be included in any package designed to avoid the cliff. Congressional Republicans have countered that the president needs to be specific about what budget cuts he would support.
Fortenberry doesn’t see much progress.
“The circumstances in Washington are best described as being stuck,” according to Fortenberry. “The president initially laid out his idea of simply raising taxes without any corresponding spending reductions. There has been a counter offer in which there would be basically a substantial amount of spending reductions in exchange for enhanced revenue. But neither side has used those staked out positions to find any common ground.”
Fortenberry says a member of his staff, Alan Feyerherm, who grew up on a farm near West Point and has worked on Capitol Hill for 22 years, says he’s never seen a time when so many major decisions must be made in so little time.
Fortenberry points out that President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) have been negotiating through the media. Obama has been holding campaign-style rallies in which he asks those in attendance to contact their members of Congress. Boehner has been holding press conferences. Fortenberry says the whole concept of Congressional procedure has shifted to more of a debate as to how to win public opinion first in order to move policy.
“That’s why you’re seeing so much of this fought out on the airwaves and in front of the media instead of a normal process working toward a solution which would be balanced and make sense for all of America,” Fortenberry says.
Fortenberry estimates that the average Nebraska family will pay nearly $3,300 more in taxes if Congress doesn’t act. He says debt reduction must be the focus of any agreement, noting that the debt now exceeds $16 trillion. Fortenberry says raising tax on the top two percent of American income earners would only fund the government for 10 days.
AUDIO: Congressman Jeff Fortenberry talks with Brent Martin about the “fiscal cliff”. [2:40]