By: Leigh Munsil
This Congress should consider a six-month deal to avert the fiscal cliff and sequestration so the new Congress convening in January can tackle the underlying fiscal problems, the president of Taxpayers for Common Sense said Thursday.
“Absolutely, we should do comprehensive tax reform and entitlement reform,” TCS president Ryan Alexander told reporters on a conference call. “But let’s leave that to the 113th Congress. Those are very serious policy decisions, and they need to be made by a body that’s accountable to the American public.”
A temporary deal of cobbled-together budget cuts — or a “down payment” on the deficit — is the best that can be hoped for in this fall’s short lame-duck session, Alexander said.
Shoehorning legislation like a farm bill, an emotional response to Hurricane Sandy or a water resources development act into the lame duck is unnecessary and preposterous, Alexander and TCS vice president Steve Ellis said.
“This is way too serious for the Congress to be addressing legislation that isn’t what they absolutely have to do,” Alexander said. “This Congress has been one of the least productive Congresses, if not the least productive Congress, since World War II. So if they haven’t been able to get something done in the last 22 months, they shouldn’t try to get something done in the last two months.”
A temporary deal would have the added benefit of blocking across-the-board defense and discretionary cuts due to sequestration going into effect on Jan. 2, Alexander added.
“We think six months is probably the right window on [a deal], simply because it’s hard to get a lot done in three months. And I think that would be sufficient to put off sequestration,” he said. “Congress can do what it wants on sequestration; it’s just a matter of deciding to put it off. But I think a meaningful down payment on debt and deficit reduction, giving a congressional window of six months to get some stuff done, is the wise way to go forward.”
But in order to pass a workable temporary deal, defense spending can’t be spared, Alexander said.
“Defense has to be on the table in both short- and long-term deficit reduction. This is kind of the old bank robber, Willie Sutton theory of budgeting,” he said. “In the discretionary budget, the defense budget is where the money is. If you want to make real savings, you’ve got to go there, and there are real savings to be had.”
Alexander said he agrees with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that members of Congress have been delaying action for too long because of partisanship.
“Essentially, we just reelected the same basic team to solve the problem we’ve been looking at for the last several years,” he said. “But again, this is a lame duck, these are serious problems. It’s time to kick the can down the road just one more time for a short period of time.”
The No. 1 priority of the lame-duck Congress should be to avoid the fiscal cliff of expiring tax cuts and other pressing economic issues, Alexander said.
“We recognize that there are people on both sides of the political aisle who see that there’s a tactical advantage to going over the fiscal cliff, whether it’s because that allows whatever is passed to look like a tax cut or because it calls people’s bluff,” he said. “But the markets aren’t going to bear it, we think that’s a bad idea, and it’s a dereliction of duty.”
Asked for his best guess on what will happen this fall, Alexander said he’s hopeful that even a historically uncooperative Congress will be able to avoid the worst consequences of inaction.
“Will we, or will we not, go over the cliff? I would say in general, my prediction is no, we won’t go over the cliff,” he said. “But ask me again in two weeks, I might say something different.”