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Patty Murray: Democrats will go over 'fiscal cliff' unless GOP relents

No. 4 Senate Democrat says that Republicans must agree to let tax cuts expire for the richest Americans or face a tax hike for all – a move that lifts a page from the GOP playbook.

By Staff writer / July 16, 2012

Sen. Patty Murray (D) of Washington at a Sept. 13, 2011, hearing of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. She is flanked by fellow co-chair Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R) of Texas (l) and Sen. Jon Kyl (R) of Arizona. The failure of this so-called supercommittee to find $1.2 trillion in savings in 2011 forces Congress to adopt draconian spending cuts, beginning in 2013, unless lawmakers can agree to a way to defuse it.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File

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With the US economy speeding toward a year-end fiscal cliff of some $560 billion in higher taxes and draconian spending cuts, Sen. Patty Murray (D) of Washington bluntly laid out her party’s position on how Congress should handle the nation’s coming fiscal travails: Go big or go over the ledge.

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“Millions of jobs could be lost through the automatic cuts, programs families depend on would be slashed irresponsibly across the board, and middle-class tax cuts would expire.  And once again, if Republicans won’t work with us on a balanced approach, we are not going to get a deal,” said Senator Murray,  the Senate’s No. 4 Democrat, in a speech at the Brookings Institution on Monday.

“[I]f we can’t get a good deal – a balanced deal that calls on the wealthy to pay their fair share – then I will absolutely continue this debate into 2013, rather than lock in a long-term deal this year that throws middle-class families under the bus,” she said.

The chair of the party committee charged with electing Democrats to the Senate laid out the broadest, most full-throated explanation of the party’s views on negotiating the fiscal cliff while outlining Democrat’s strategy for attacking Republicans at the polls in November.

While optimistic “that we can get a good deal,” Murray said Democrats would not, for example, sign on to a plan that would offset the $55 billion defense portion of the $109 billion in automatic spending cuts mandated by the “sequester,” the budget-slashing mechanism agreed to as part of 2011’s debt-ceiling showdown. The remainder of the reductions come from discretionary spending, home to Democratic priorities like social welfare programs, and reductions in payments to Medicare providers.

“None of the automatic cuts are good policy. They were packaged together in a bipartisan fashion to get both sides to the table, and they will be replaced, or not, as a package,” Murray said. “Here in D.C. the defense cuts get most of the attention – but across America, all the automatic cuts would be deeply damaging to families and communities.”

Several Republican senators have been pushing for legislation that offsets defense spending with cuts and even the potential for new taxes in recent weeks.

On taxes, Murray perhaps presaged how taxes may come to a vote in the Senate before the August recess. She prefers a bill authorizing an extension of the the tax cuts up to $250,000 in household income coupled with an amendment extending all the Bush-era tax cuts.

Thus, “[a]ny senator who supports extending tax cuts for the middle class – they can vote for our bill. Any senator who supports extending tax cuts for the rich – they can vote for the Republican amendment. And any senator who supports extending all the tax cuts – well, they can vote for them both,” Murray said.

Republicans, who have ripped a $250,000-and-under extension alone as a massive hike on taxes for small businesses who file taxes through the income tax code, are left in the unappetizing position of killing off all the tax-extension measures. That’s because they want to avoid giving Democrats a political victory and protect small businesses, in their view.

By putting Senate Republicans through this tax wringer, Democrats get to paint their foes as defenders of special interests and millionaires at the expense of the middle class ahead of the November elections.

“Holding the middle-class tax cuts hostage may be a smart tactical move if the goal is to protect the rich. But it’s not good policy, it’s not good politics, and Democrats are going to keep reminding the American people why middle-class tax cuts aren’t being extended immediately – even though both sides say they want them to be,” Murray said.
 
Democrats appear to have learned from Republican tactics from the debt-ceiling fight, said Alice Rivlin, a former director of two federal budget agencies who has been a leading figure in the public debate over a large-scale deficit reduction plan.

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