The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

December 16, 2012

Rep. Brooks weighs in on 'fiscal cliff' talks

— With no definitive solutions announced following a late Thursday meeting between House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama, the U.S. is now just two weeks away from going over the “fiscal cliff.”

Speaking by phone from Washington Thursday, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-5th, said it’s possible a compromise can be reached by the end of the year, but added the ball is squarely in Obama’s court.

“If the president will remove more of the outlandish positions from his negotiation stance, then an agreement will be reached,” Brooks said. “An example of his negotiation stance is the president’s desire to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling without approval from Congress.”

Following Thursday’s late-night talk between Boehner and Obama, Boehner returned to Ohio. Following Friday’s mass shooting in Connecticut, the nation has turned its attention away from Washington and the repercussions of the “fiscal cliff.” It’s unclear when the two sides may reconvene for further talks on the matter.

Simply put, the cliff is a combination of the end of the Bush-era tax cuts and across-the-board sequestration that will slash funding to a wide range of government and military departments.

President Obama wants to raise taxes on Americans who make $250,000 or more to generate $1.6 trillion in revenue over 10 years. Republicans don’t want to raise taxes, but instead close tax loopholes that would generate $800 billion over the same period of time.

Financial experts believe failure to reach a deal on the cliff would result in another economic recession.

Brooks said he and most of the other Republican members of the House were not privy to specific details about the ongoing negotiations. He said there were only about seven House members involved in the talks.

“As of (Wednesday), Speaker Boehner told us it was like the speaker and the president were in different galaxies, speaking different languages,” Brooks said. “I’ve heard that kind of language from the speaker before, and the question is always whether that bleak assessment is designed to force the other side to compromise more or if it’s a true reflection of how far apart the parties really are.”

One concept being supported by Republicans is an effort to raise the minimum age to receive Social Security benefits. Brooks said it’s the best option available to keep the program solvent for future generations.

He said over the past two years, both Social Security and Medicare have “gone into the red,” and to keep it solvent, government must either raise payroll taxes or the age limit for beneficiaries.

Brooks voted for a bill over the summer that guarantees that beneficiaries would get what they’re already receiving, plus a consumer price increase adjustment. Those who are 59 or younger, however, would have to work a little longer before they would be eligible for benefits.

“You can cut the payouts to people who are already receiving benefits, or you can raise the age in which people are entitled to benefits, thereby protecting them,” he said. “My view is, the best of those options is to gradually phase in an age increase before people are entitled to receive Social Security and Medicare.”

Brooks said no matter what the outcome of the “fiscal cliff” negotiations, he believes all Americans will be affected by higher taxes after the first of the new year. He said Obama campaigned on higher taxes, and because he won the election, higher taxes is what Americans should expect.

“In my judgment, Barack Obama wants these fiscal cliff negotiations to fail,” Brooks said. “That is his best position, wherein he can get all the tax increases and be in a position to blame Republicans for the tax increases.”

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