How S.C. delegation is still split on fiscal cliff

Should Obama steamroll or try to work with GOP?

gnsmith@thestate.comNovember 10, 2012 

Key S.C. congressmen are skeptical there will be any solution to the so-called “fiscal cliff.”

That cliff, which arrives Jan. 1, would combine massive tax hikes and spending cuts if Congress and newly re-elected President Barack Obama cannot hammer out a compromise on federal spending, the deficit and the national debt.

The combination of tax hikes and spending cuts could send the country sliding back into a recession, economists predict.

But compromise remains a dirty word to some key S.C. legislators.

U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn of Columbia, the delegation’s lone Democrat, suggests Obama ignore Republicans, who control the U.S. House, and pass his agenda through the Democratic-controlled Senate. “Then let (Republican House Speaker) John Boehner say to the American people, ‘I’m not going to bring this Senate-passed proposal to the House.’ ”

Republican U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney of Indian Land doubts any compromise will happen – unless Obama bends.

“Real change must come on the part of the president,” Mulvaney said, adding former Presidents Ronald Reagan, a Republican, and Bill Clinton, a Democrat, both compromised to work with a Congress controlled by the opposing party. “These were great leaders, and they got it done. We did not see that out of Obama.”

If there is an optimist, it is U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, the Seneca Republican and the most moderate member of the S.C. delegation, who says both sides have reason to compromise.

“No. 1, (Obama) barely won,” said Graham, who has worked with the Democratic-controlled White House on previous issues. “He lost a lot of the popular vote that he had in 2008. So I hope the president understands that. ... And I hope we (Republicans) understand we lost.

“So we’ve got to come together.”

Taking it to the American people?

Democrat Clyburn thinks Obama’s Election Day victory gives the president license to pursue his agenda without bending to the will of Republican-controlled House.

Obama’s agenda includes ending Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy – increasing taxes on households that make more than $250,000 a year to cut the deficit – while continuing tax cuts for the majority of Americans. Republicans oppose higher taxes on the wealthy, saying it would slow economic growth and kill jobs.

To pass his tax plan, Clyburn suggests Obama mobilize the American people.

“The results on Tuesday indicate that the American people ... have validated his proposals to govern,” Clyburn said. “A majority of the American people” – 60 percent in exit polling – “have made it clear that they think we ought to increase revenue, which is a dressed up way of saying we should raise taxes (on some.)”

Obama seems to be on the same page.

The president Friday invited congressional leaders to the White House for budget talks next week. But, he added, his re-election is reason for Republicans to back a debt plan that includes higher taxes on the rich.

Clyburn hopes Obama will take advantage of an anticipated rule change in the Senate to limit filibusters and push his agenda through that body, which Democrats control. Then, Clyburn said, Obama should make his case to the American people, putting pressure on the GOP-controlled House to take up his proposal.

“My advice to the president is do your stuff under the new Senate rules. Pass your tax cut. Pass it and then take it to the American people, just like he took his campaign to the American people,” Clyburn said.

Clyburn sees no point in Obama reaching out to Republicans.

“President Obama tried time and time and time again to work with the Republicans here in Washington, especially after 2010,” when the GOP took control of the House, Clyburn said. “The Republican leadership took a blood oath on the night that he was inaugurated to do everything they possibly could to make him a one-term president.”

But while Clyburn said Republicans must change, Mulvaney thinks Tuesday’s election results – barring a change by Obama – are an endorsement of continuing political gridlock.

“You can make a very strong argument that the people voted for gridlock,” Mulvaney said. “When we got down to the election, they voted for nothing to change. They could have voted for Romney. ... They dealt us the same thing as they’ve had for the last two years.”

Graham, however, is more hopeful.

To avoid driving the country off the fiscal cliff, Graham favors the Simpson-Bowles plan, a bipartisan 2010 plan that would have cut federal spending and the federal workforce, while increasing tax revenue by eliminating tax deductions, reforming entitlements by raising the retirement age for Social Security and cutting the corporate tax rate.

Simpson-Bowles may offer some hope for a compromise.

Like Graham, Democrat Clyburn says those reforms could provide a workable solution to the fiscal cliff.

With some modifications.

Reach Smith at (803) 771-8658.

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