The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

December 27, 2012

Obama invites congressional leaders to cliff talk

(Continued)

The risk of higher milk prices stems from the possibility that existing farm programs will expire at year's end, and neither chamber of Congress has scheduled a vote on even a temporary extension to prevent a spike. There have been unverified estimates that the cost to consumers of a gallon of milk could double without action by Congress.

The president flew home from Hawaii overnight after speaking with top congressional leaders.

Before leaving the White House last Friday, the president had called on lawmakers to pass scaled-down legislation that prevents tax increases for the middle class, raises rates at upper incomes and renews expiring unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless. He said he still supports a more sweeping measure to include spending cuts to reduce deficits, but said they could wait until the new year.

That capped an unpredictable week in which Boehner pivoted away from comprehensive deficit reduction talks with Obama to an aborted attempt to push legislation through the House that retained existing tax levels except above $1 million. Anti-tax Republicans rebelled at raising rates on million-dollar earners, and Boehner backpedaled and canceled the planned vote.

Without congressional action, current tax rates will expire on Dec. 31, resulting in a $536 billion tax increase over a decade that would touch nearly all Americans. In addition, the military and other federal departments would have to begin absorbing about $110 billion in spending cuts.

Failure to avoid the "fiscal cliff" doesn't necessarily mean tax increases and spending cuts would become permanent, since the new Congress could pass legislation cancelling them retroactively after it begins its work next year.

But gridlock through the end of the year would mark a sour beginning to a two-year extension of divided government that resulted from last month's elections in which Obama won a new term and Republicans retained their majority in the House.

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