Few probably shed a tear to see the tenure of the 112th U.S. Congress come to an end, replaced with the new 113th Congress on Jan. 3.
The previous Congress, widely considered to be one of the least productive in the nation’s history, concluded its tumultuous tenure amid controversy, having finally passed the U.S. Senate’s version of a bill to temporarily step back from its own artificially imposed “fiscal cliff.”
The fiscal cliff scenario was put into place after a 2011 Congressional “supercommittee” failed to reach agreement on a deficit reduction plan in 2011.
The fiscal cliff was supposed to force automatic spending cuts and tax hikes if Congress failed to take deficit reduction action by the end of 2012.
The failure to take action on what was apparently nothing more than a Washington-concocted bluff put Americans, businesses and markets on edge for weeks, dampening an already sluggish economy.
Unfortunately, Congress was too polarized and lacked the political leadership to even take action to avert the fiscal cliff scenario before the calendar flipped to 2013.
The compromise brokered between the White House and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell during the weekend of Dec. 28 and finally approved — after the deadline — by the U.S. House, does little to actually address the nation’s spending addiction and revenue shortfalls.
The “tough choices” that so many politicians constantly say are necessary were put off again.
Instead, the work was pushed back another two months with Congress setting a new deadline of March to address the spending side of the equation.
In fact, perhaps telling of the amount of corporate influence on Congress, the measure was loaded up with a wide array of questionable corporate subsidies that only add to the deficit.
The measure simply adds trillions of dollars to the national debt over the next 10 years by keeping in place the Bush-era tax cuts.
Taxes have increased for individuals and couples making more than $400,000 and $450,000 respectively.
While officials insist that tax hikes on most Americans were averted, an analysis by the Tax Policy Center found that the measure will actually increase taxes on 77 percent of Americans.
Immediately in 2013 workers will see the expiration of a temporary Social Security tax cut take away about 2 percent from their take-home pay. That will mean about $1,000 less gross pay per year for a worker making $50,000 a year.
Meanwhile, the U.S. House also failed to bring to a vote a bill to provide relief to victims of Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast.
That inaction drew sharp criticism from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, against Speaker of the House John Boehner for the Republican-led House failing to put politics aside and carry out the basic functions they were elected to do.
The challenges this nation faces are many. While there may be relatively few new faces in the 113th Congress, our area does have three new federal officials to represent our interests - and we hope they have the opportunities and abilities to represent us well. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III and U.S. Rep. William Keating were all sworn in Jan. 3.
The Democrats have a tall order ahead of them.
All constituents should plan to reach out to their elected officials and urge them to begin discussions immediately on spending areas that they feel should be cut or preserved.
With House elections another two years away and the presidential election four years out, the nation needs a U.S. Congress that is able to work more effectively than the last.
The clock is ticking. Our leaders must not wait until the last minute of the new March deadline to come to take real, meaningful action to address our nation’s fiscal crisis.
— GateHouse News Service