News / USA

US Lawmakers Shun Partisanship on Debt Talks

Michael Bowman

U.S. lawmakers are expressing no hardened bargaining positions on debt negotiations aimed at finding an alternative to massive tax hikes and deep spending cuts that will automatically take effect January 1.

Democrats and Republicans say they will have to embrace measures that will displease base supporters of their respective parties to avert the so-called “fiscal cliff” and cut America’s trillion-dollar federal deficit.

U.S. legislators are returning from a Thanksgiving holiday recess with an overriding concern: how to put America’s fiscal house in order without endangering a fragile economic recovery.  An initial round of post-election debt discussions between the White House and congressional leaders yielded no clear signs of progress. With negotiations set to resume, lawmakers took to U.S. airwaves Sunday to stress their willingness to consider politically-painful choices necessary for a bipartisan deal.

Republican Congressman Peter King spoke on NBC’s Meet the Press program. “We should not be taking ironclad positions," he said.

That view was echoed by Democratic Senator Richard Durbin on ABC’s This Week program. “Put everything on the table. We can solve this problem," he said.

Specifically, several Republican lawmakers say they are willing to set aside pledges made years ago that they would never vote for additional tax revenue and pursue deficit reduction through spending cuts alone. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham on This Week said, “I will violate the [no-tax] pledge. Republicans should put revenue on the table.”

Similarly, Senator Durbin said Democrats must risk angering their party’s base supporters by embracing cost-saving reforms to programs that provide health care for retirees. “We want Medicare to be there for today’s senior and tomorrow’s, as well. We can make meaningful reforms without compromising the integrity of the program," he said.

To be sure, partisan differences remain. Republicans say the best way to boost government revenue is to limit tax deductions, rather than boosting tax rates on the wealthy, as President Barack Obama and Democratic lawmakers desire. While Democrats agree that costs will have to be contained for Medicare, they remain strongly opposed to Republican proposals to radically overhaul the program.

But the absence of partisan lines drawn in the sand is a departure from last year’s debt negotiations that failed to yield an accord, prompting a downgrade of U.S. creditworthiness.

Congressman King said, “The speaker [of the House], the majority leader [of the Senate], and the president are going to be in a room trying to find the best [debt reduction] package. I do not want to prejudge any of this. We cannot go off the fiscal cliff. We have to show the world we are adults. The election is over.”

For years, public opinion polls have shown that Americans overwhelmingly crave compromise and bipartisanship over ideological inflexibility and gridlock in Washington. Economists say the United States risks another economic recession if no debt deal is struck and automatic tax hikes and spending cuts actually take effect next year. 

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