The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

January 3, 2013

‘Cliff’ averted, more squabbles ahead


The News Courier

From staff, wire reports

Last-minute compromises between congressional leaders and the White House on Tuesday kept the U.S. from going over the “fiscal cliff,” but tough decisions lay ahead.

The deal approved by Congress and set to be signed by the president will generate $600 billion in new revenue over 10 years, less than half the amount Obama first called for. It will raise income tax rates only on the very rich, despite his campaign for broader increases.

U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-5th, was one of six Alabama congressional leaders who voted against the compromise. He said the “fiscal cliff” term was coined by the media, and that there was no hard and fast deadline that would trigger adverse consequences.

“It was more like a gradual thing where the consequences would get greater and greater with time,” he said.

Brooks added that while Americans have been focused on the fiscal cliff and the debt ceiling, the larger issue is what he called the $16 trillion “debt mountain.” Had the U.S. national debt been only $1-to-$2 trillion, he said, it would not have received the media attention.

Bill Armistead, chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, praised the state’s congressional leaders who voted against the compromise.

“I applaud the Republican Members of the Alabama Delegation in the House for their vote last night for more fiscal restraint.  I view their vote against the measure as being in line with the conservative principles we hold dear as Alabama Republicans,” he said. “It is my sincere hope that Congress wakes up and realizes that pushing a problem off for two months does not mean waiting two months to begin debate. Congress needs to begin addressing the debt ceiling, sequestration and the continuation of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts right now instead of waiting two months and again negotiate with a gun to the head of the American economy.”

Though this week’s compromise temporarily staved off mandated cuts through sequestration, Brooks said the resolution will make defense cuts more likely. He said, however, he could not speculate on when workers at Redstone Arsenal and NASA would receive furlough notices.

“I know what the law is and I know what the White House had said (about furlough notifications),” he said. “I don’t know how it will play out.”

Congress will deal with the next round of negotiations in about two weeks, following the president’s inauguration. Another standoff is likely to arrive as early as February, when Congress will need to raise the $16.4 trillion federal borrowing limit so the government can keep paying its bills.

House Republicans, who objected strongly to the latest fiscal deal Tuesday before the chamber finally voted to approve it, probably won’t agree to raise the debt limit without offsetting spending cuts that Democrats are sure to resist.

President Barack Obama warned Republicans late Tuesday “if Congress refuses to give the United States government the ability to pay these bills on time, the consequences for the entire global economy would be catastrophic, far worse than the impact of a fiscal cliff.”

In March, Congress will also have to hammer out a six-month appropriation bill to fund the government through Sept. 30, the end of the current fiscal year.

“We’ll be working on whatever the president wants to throw at us,” Brooks said, adding some of those issues could include gun control and immigration.

Markets respond

Despite the short-term compromise to a larger problem, the stock market shot higher on Wednesday, the first day of trading in the new year.

In the U.S., the rally was extraordinarily broad. For every stock that fell on the New York Stock Exchange, roughly 9 rose. Technology and bank stocks rose the most.

But for all the euphoria, many investors cautioned that it can’t last long. The deal that politicians hammered out merely postpones the country’s budget reckoning, they said, rather than averting it.

“Washington negotiations remind me of the Beach Boys song, ‘We’ll have fun, fun, fun ‘til her daddy takes the T-Bird away,” Jack Ablin, chief investment officer of BMO Private Bank in Chicago, wrote in a note to clients.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.