'Fiscal Cliff'

Groups hope to draw attention to fiscal cliff debate

2012-12-10T18:02:00Z 2012-12-12T00:21:06Z Groups hope to draw attention to fiscal cliff debateTimes Staff and Wire Reports nwitimes.com
December 10, 2012 6:02 pm  • 

MERRILLVILLE | Steve Kramer spent Monday night drawing attention to the “fiscal cliff” debate in Congress by standing on the curb in front of the Merrillville office of U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky.

Kramer, 54, of Dyer, and a group of people were part of a statewide plan put together by the coalition of Indiana labor unions urging Congress to take action before the Jan. 1 deadline.

“We don't want Congress, the Senate or the president to take any benefits from Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security,” he said.

Negotiations under way in Congress are designed to prevent across-the-board tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to begin at the turn of the year, a combination that economists say poses the threat of a new recession.

Motorists honked at the group as they waved “No more tax cuts for the rich” signs at cars passing by on Broadway.

Although Visclosky was not at his office, he was aware of the group's presence and assured them their voices had been heard, according to a statement released by his office.

“I believe that the approach to address our current budgetary situation should be a balanced, comprehensive approach that protects our national defense, promotes economic development in our nation, and maintains the structural integrity of Medicare and Social Security for current and future generations,” he said in the statement.

Similar groups of people gathered outside congressional offices in Indianapolis and South Bend on Monday showing support for the Indiana AFL-CIO.

Meanwhile, Republicans pressed President Barack Obama to name specific spending cuts he will support, while the White House insisted the GOP agree explicitly to raise tax rates on upper incomes.

Obama warned his listeners in Michigan on Monday their taxes will rise without action by the Congress.

"That's a hit you can't afford to take," he declared.

He spoke one day after meeting privately at the White House with House Speaker John Boehner, whose office expressed frustration with the talks to date.

"We continue to wait for the president to identify the spending cuts he's willing to make as part of the `balanced' approach he promised the American people," Boehner said a written statement.

While leaders in both parties say they are eager to avoid that "cliff," negotiations on a plan to cut deficits by other measures have turned into a major postelection showdown between opposing sides in a divided government.

Many Republicans agree Obama and the Democrats hold most of the political leverage, given the president's re-election a month ago after a campaign in which he said the wealthy should pay more in taxes.

If anything, the president has toughened his demands in recent days, insisting not only that tax rates must rise, but also that Congress give him and future presidents the authority to raise the government's borrowing limit without prior approval by lawmakers.

Boehner, while claiming his own election mandate for the Republican majority in the House, said within a few days of the voting he was prepared to buck many in his party and support additional tax revenue as part of a fiscal cliff agreement.

The Ohio Republican has said repeatedly he opposes Obama's plan to raise tax rates for anyone, adding that he prefers to raise revenue by closing loopholes. Yet he has not yet ruled out giving the president his way, and some Republicans have said they are prepared to do so — encouraging Democrats to say they anticipate the speaker will eventually yield on the point.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters as Obama went to Michigan that "the president believes that a deal is possible. It requires acceptance and acknowledgement in a concrete way by Republicans that the top 2 percent will see an increase in their rates."

In his remarks at the Daimler Detroit Diesel Plant, Obama said the Democrats would "make some tough spending cuts on things that we don't need" as part of his budget plans, although he didn't mention any of them by name.

Republicans have increasingly expressed frustration in recent days as they accuse Obama and the Democrats of failing to talk in specifics when it comes to spending cuts that many of their constituencies are likely to balk at.

In talks that ended in failure 18 months ago, according to aides in both political parties, Obama had tentatively agreed to a proposal to raise the age of Medicare eligibility from 65 to 67 beginning in a decade, and had also said he would accept a change to slow the annual cost-of-living increases that go to recipients of Social Security and other federal benefits.

This time, the two sides have advanced opening proposals that are short of specifics and reflect different priorities.

Obama's plan would raise $1.6 trillion in revenue over 10 years, in part by raising tax rates on incomes over $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples.

He has recommended $400 billion in spending cuts over a decade.

He also is seeking extension of the Social Security payroll tax cut due to expire on Jan. 1, a continuation in long-term unemployment benefits and steps to help hard-pressed homeowners and doctors who treat Medicaid patients.

Boehner's plan, in addition to calling for $800 billion in new revenue, envisions $600 billion in savings over a decade from Medicare, Medicaid and other government health programs as well as $300 billion from other benefit programs and another $300 billion from other domestic programs.

It would trim annual increases in Social Security payments to beneficiaries, and it calls for gradually raising the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67, beginning in a decade.


AP White House Correspondent Ben Feller contributed from Redford, Mich. Times reporter Lindsay Machak contributed.

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