In 'fiscal cliff' deal, Joe Biden upstages President Obama (+ video)
With 'fiscal cliff' talks teetering, Vice President Joe Biden – a former longtime senator – stepped in to broker a deal with his old colleagues and and stave off big tax hikes for most Americans.
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Members of Congress are used to being the brunt of jibes. But a stick-in-the-eye to House Republicans whose votes will be needed to on a deal to avert the fiscal cliff is a poor negotiating strategy, said GOP senators, who took to the floor after the president’s remarks.Skip to next paragraph
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“The American people have to wonder whether the president really wants this issue resolved or is it to his short-term political benefit for us to go over the cliff?” said Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, the GOP presidential nominee in 2008.
“I know the president had fun heckling Congress. I think he lost probably numbers of votes with what he did,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee, who worked with the White House on the 2009 auto bailout.
If, in fact, the president wants to break the deal and charge House Republicans with taking the country over the fiscal cliff, the jibes might work, says John Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont-McKenna College in California
“There are two possible explanations: (1) He was trying to bolster Democratic morale or (2) that he really wants to go over the cliff and was trying to goad Republicans into busting the deal. He may end up succeeding.”
The Biden-McConnell deal offered some compromise on both sides.
Responding to GOP pressure, the deal continues to give an estate-tax exemption for estates up to $5 million. (Had Congress taken no action, the exemption would have reverted back to $1 million.) In a nod to Democrats, estate tax rates will increase to 40 percent, up from the current 35 percent level but short of the 45 percent rate that the president wanted.
The last issue to be resolved later Monday was how to deal with $110 billion in automatic spending cuts known as the sequester. Obama and Democrats proposed using new tax revenues to offset the spending cuts, but Republicans insisted that the whole point of the sequester produced by the debt-ceiling negotiations was to cut spending.
The Biden-McConnell deal delays the sequester cuts for two months, offset by spending cuts elsewhere in the budget.
For many Senate Democrats, the shift from $250,000 to $450,000 was a bigger pill.
“We’re going to lock in forever the idea that $450,000 a year is middle class in America?" said Sen. Tom Harkin (D) of Iowa, responding to press reports of a deal on Monday. “Need I remind people that at $250,000 a year, that’s the top 2 percent income earners in America.”
Top labor leaders protested what they saw as a White House capitulation on tax rates. Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, tweeted his opposition to a proposal that would raise tax rates only on incomes above $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples, while inviting future debt-reduction standoffs just months down the road.
“It’s not a good fiscal cliff deal if it gives more tax cuts to 2 percent and sets the stage for more hostage taking,” said AFL-CIO leader Richard Trumka in a message tweeted to followers.
Labor leaders worry that the next fiscal cliff negotiations will lead to even more concessions, or hostage taking. The Treasury reports that the US hit its debt ceiling on Dec. 31, but that emergency measures could delay breaching the ceiling into February.