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November 20, 2012

Analysts Now More Optimistic US Lawmakers Can Reach a Budget Agreement

by Cindy Saine

U.S. lawmakers have left Washington for the Thanksgiving holiday, and when they return, they will only have five weeks left before the end of the year to resolve a number of crucial budget, tax and government spending issues known as the "fiscal cliff."

Concerns about the United States averting the so-called fiscal cliff followed President Barack Obama on his trip to Asia. At the Wat Pho Royal Monastery in Bangkok, President Obama told his Buddhist monk guide that the United States is working on a budget, and is "going to need a lot of prayer for that."

University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato said Congress is going to have a lot of work to do in a short amount of time when lawmakers return after the holiday break.

"We have to come to terms with this massive debt, and we certainly have to either say yea or nay to the Bush tax cuts, part or whole, to the payroll tax cut, to all kinds of things connected to sequestration," said Sabato.

Sequestration refers to the severe, across-the-board cuts in domestic and military spending that would automatically take effect January 1 unless Congress and the president forge a deficit reduction agreement. Major tax cuts put in place under President George W. Bush are also set to expire at the end of this year.

Some American tourists visiting Washington told VOA they are also concerned.

"Yeah, I am worried about it," said John Davis of Illinois on the fiscal cliff. "And as far as you ask me about Congress I think they need to get busy and do the job."

"I hope they get the right people together to come up with some new solutions," said Patty Keffer of Virginia, who was visiting the U.S. Capitol with her children. "I have young children and I want them to have a bright future and reduce the deficit."

President Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress have long demanded that income tax rates for the highest-earning Americans be allowed to go up as part of a deal to cut the deficit. Congressional Republicans oppose higher tax rates for anyone, and are calling for significant reforms and cuts to social programs such as Medicare and Social Security - programs that Democrats do not want to see cut.

David Hawkings, a political analyst and the editor of the CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing,  says despite the challenges, he thinks the mood among lawmakers has changed since the November elections.

"It seems at the moment as though there is genuine optimism," he said.

Hawkings said he believes Republicans know they have to yield some on the tax issue now.

"The president and congressional Democrats are on pretty solid footing when they say this election was more than anything else a referendum on the president's view of higher taxes on the wealthy, and he won," he said.

Analyst Sabato agrees there is more optimism and that Democrats have been strengthened, but he is not so sure voters want tax hikes for the wealthy.

"The public sided with Democrats," said Sabato. "Now, what they sided with them about will be debated forever."

Since neither Republicans nor Democrats wants automatic spending cuts, and neither side wants all the Bush-era tax cuts to expire, lawmakers should have an incentive to get to work reaching a deal before the next holidays in December.