It’s going to be a long 36 hours of intense negotiations.
Earlier this afternoon, despite early reports of progress between Democratic and Republican negotiators, fiscal cliff deliberations suffered a setback. For a time, cable news channels featured blaring headlines that said bipartisan efforts to reach an agreement before midnight tomorrow had “failed.” It took an hour or two for that dust up to recede. In the interim, Speaker John Boehner gaveled the House into a rare, Sunday night session. For now, lead negotiators and their staffs in the U.S. Senate are set to continue well into the night in a determined effort to try to reach agreement before 12:01 a.m. on New Years Day.
On Friday, as the weekend began, bipartisan negotiators were optimistic that the contours of an agreement were within reach. The focus, at the time, was on a ‘smaller’ deal, in the short term, that would buy time to work out a longer, permanent agreement in the New Year. However, earlier this afternoon, news sources reported that unnamed Republican negotiators wanted to insert a so-called ‘chained CPI’ provision into the short-term agreement. For a time, statements were flying from leaders on both sides of the aisle, chief among them U. S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, of Maryland, who serves as the Democrats’ Ranking Member on the House Budget Committee.
In an appearance, this morning on ABC’s “This Week” Van Hollen engaged in a spirited dialogue with Congressman Raúl Labrador, a Republican from Idaho. When asked by guest host Jonathan Carl about the state of fiscal cliff negotiations, Van Hollen said, “Speaker Boehner is gonna have to decide that he’s going to allow the House, finally, to vote on a deal, whatever may come out of the Senate, rather than play Republican Caucus politics in the House…Until we know exactly what the Senate is proposing, if Senators couldn’t tell us the details, it’s impossible to know if we can support the deal.”
In response, Labrador said, “…There were only about 50 of us in the House who said that we were not gonna vote for John Boehner’s deal last week. All they needed was 50 Democrats to vote for the deal and it would have passed last week. But, no, he [Van Hollen] spent the entire day on the House floor attacking everything that John Boehner was gonna do.”
Earlier today, several news reports said that tempers flared behind the scenes in the Senate—so much so that U. S. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called Vice President Joe Biden, a man he’s been able to work with over the years given the Vice President’s leadership in the Senate.
This outreach appeared to have worked as, shortly before 6 p.m. this evening, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid returned to the Senate floor and delivered this brief statement, “I was really gratified to finally hear the Republicans had taken their demand for Social Security benefit cuts off the table. Truth is they should never have been on the table to begin with. There’s still significant distance between the two sides but negotiations continue. There’s still time left to reach an agreement and we intend to continue negotiations.”
‘Chained CPI’ Explained
This little known provision refers to the way the Consumer Price Index is calculated with respect to determining senior citizen benefits. Recent analysis by Katherine Gallagher Robbins, a Senior Policy Analyst for Family Economic Security at the National Women’s Law Center, identified five key reasons why her organization and other leading women’s groups and progressive activists are organizing to block this provision from being included in the agreement to resolve the fiscal cliff. As reported on the NWLC website, if the chained CPI (a new and lower Consumer Price Index) is adopted the cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) that Social Security recipients depend on would be calculated in a new way that cuts the value of benefits each year. And no matter how Washington insiders try to spin it, that means a cut to Social Security benefits. Their view is shared by other leading organizations who’ve worked this weekend, in a concerted effort to urge negotiators on both sides to take the chained CPI off the table. And, in late breaking news this evening, the Examiner can confirm that their efforts were successful, at least, for now.
All of this is taking place in the midst of growing anxiety among small business leaders.
In a pre-recorded interview from the White House broadcast, this morning on NBC’s “Meet the Press with David Gregory,” President Barack Obama addressed the interests of small businesses and taxpayers while offering his take on efforts to reach an agreement before the December 31, midnight deadline.
“What Congress needs to do, first and foremost, is to prevent taxes from going up for the vast majority of Americans. And this was a major topic of discussion throughout the campaign.
“What I said was that we should keep taxes where they are for 98 percent of Americans, 97 percent of small businesses but, if we’re serious about deficit reduction, we should make sure that the wealthier pay a little bit more and combine that with spending cuts to reduce our deficit and put our economy on a long term trajectory of growth. You know, we have been talking to the Republicans ever since the election was over. They have had trouble saying ‘yes’ to a number of repeated offers.
“Yesterday I had another meeting with the leadership and I suggested to them if they can’t do a comprehensive package of smart deficit reduction let’s, at minimum, make sure that people’s taxes don’t go up and that two million people don’t lose their unemployment insurance. And, you know, I was modestly optimistic yesterday, but we don’t yet see an agreement. And, now, the pressure’s on the Congress to produce. If they don’t, what I’ve said is that, in the Senate, we should go ahead and introduce legislation that would make sure that middle-class taxes stay where they are and there should be an up or down vote. Everybody should have a right to vote on that.
“You know, if Republicans don’t like it they can vote no. But I actually think that there’s majority support for making sure that middle-class families are held harmless.”