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Fiscal zombie apocalypse in Washington? Obama and Congress on taxes. (+video)

Lawmakers and the White House keep putting off tough fiscal and political decisions until after the elections, prompting criticism that this is a 'Zombie Congress.'

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Obama tried to paint the issue as a bipartisan compromise Monday, arguing that since Democrats and Republicans both want tax rates to stay low for the middle class, passing an extension of some tax rates was a 50 percent victory for both sides, not a 50 percent loss.

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“Let’s agree to do what we agree on,” said Obama.

Republicans in both chambers of Congress, however, hammered the president for wanting to raise taxes on anyone. House Republicans will vote to extend all the Bush tax rates later this month.

“Last week’s troubling jobs report is further proof that our economy is stalling and needs a boost. This is not the time to raise taxes. Additional burdens on families, small businesses and job creators will only make our economy worse,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R) of Ohio, in a statement.

Democrats, meanwhile, lined up behind the president. Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) said he would discuss the president’s plan with colleagues and bring it to a vote in the coming weeks. In the House, where minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D) previously favored extending the tax cuts up to $1 million in income, the president’s allies also warmed to his proposal.

“Let's be very clear: Democrats support immediate extension of the middle income tax cuts and we have offered our support at several levels to ensure passage and provide economic security to the middle class,” said a senior Democratic House aide in an e-mailed statement.

But Obama’s statement largely allowed both parties to dig in on their established talking points: Democrats arguing that Republicans will defend the rich to the death; Republicans arguing that their Democratic foes see higher taxes as the solution to every problem.

While both sides are hoping for electoral success come November, it’s very unlikely that either party will emerge with the sort of sweeping mandate to fix America’s tax code, entitlement system, and spending priorities that either party would need.

Both parties “are articulating that you, voter, need to give us a mandate. I guarantee you, [voters] aren’t going to give anybody a mandate on Nov. 6,” says Bruce Josten, executive vice president of government affairs at the US Chamber of Commerce. “That to me defines a more precariously balanced political system than we have today.”

Meaning that if we can’t deal with the Night of the Living (Fiscal) Dead now, things aren’t going to be any better come winter.

So how do you kill America’s fiscal zombies?

In a talk Monday morning at the Brookings Institution in Washington, Gov. Chris Christie (R) of New Jersey had a simple cure – political risk taking.

“I’m coming to [Washington, D.C.] … because I want people to know that their government can work for them, but they need leaders who are willing to take risk. Risk with their own parties and risk with the public who votes for them,” Governor Christie said.

“Leadership is not just about obstructionism,” he said. “Leadership is also not about caving every time you get pushed. Leadership is about nuance and about understanding and communicating to people ‘here is what I stand for and on these issues [where] I will not be moved,’ but on other issues leaving room for discussion and accomplishing principled compromise.”


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