WASHINGTON: The game of chicken over the nation’s impending “fiscal cliff” — the automatic tax hikes and spending cuts due if Congress doesn’t act by year’s end — has officially begun.
Congressional Democratic leaders made clear Monday that they have no interest in blocking the changes if Republicans continue to refuse to soften their hard-line opposition to higher taxes on wealthier Americans.
“If Republicans won’t work with us on a balanced approach, we are not going to get a deal,” Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the No. 4 Democrat and the party’s senatorial campaign chairwoman, said during a talk at the Brookings Institution.
The Democrats’ negotiating position unleashed a whirlwind of criticism from Republicans, who said such tactics would hurt the economy by adding to the uncertainty.
But the Democrats’ approach was used last year by the GOP during talks with President Barack Obama over the nation’s debt limit. Analysts have said that standoff did not help the sluggish economy.
“Has it come to this, that Democrats are willing to hurt jobs and tank our economy?” asked House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-West Chester.
Once again, both parties are trying to use Congress to define the political narrative heading toward November.
Senate Democrats sought Monday to advance legislation that would require any organization — including political committees or social welfare groups — to more fully identify its financial contributors. The legislation would mandate disclosure within 24 hours of expenditures of $10,000 or more, as well as the identity of donors of at least $10,000. Republicans blocked the effort with a filibuster.
At the same time, House Republicans were readying an attack on Obama’s budget priorities, voting this week on legislation that would roll back the Pentagon spending cuts coming in January.
Congress agreed to the reductions last summer as part of a deal with the White House to raise the debt ceiling. That pact required cuts equally from military and nonmilitary spending.
Democrats are unwilling to spare the Pentagon at the expense of the school lunch program and other nondefense accounts the GOP has targeted to make up the difference.
Instead, Obama and his allies on the Hill would prefer to raise taxes on wealthier Americans by allowing the George W. Bush-era tax breaks on annual income of $250,000 or more to expire in December as scheduled.