WASHINGTON — After an election that failed to resolve the partisan divide here, lawmakers on Wednesday turned immediately to the looming tax and spending deadlines that threaten another U.S. recession within weeks.
“I don't think much has changed,'' Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, said Wednesday. “The question is how you build compromise to fix the problems of the country. … There's going to have to be a bargain struck.”
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore said Congress might not be able to pass legislation before January that provides comprehensive solutions to the impending tax changes and spending cuts, but he said some kind of framework for compromise must be devised.
“The next two months will be extremely important,” Cole said.
Tax cuts passed a decade ago and renewed in 2010 are set to expire at the end of the year; and in early January, $1.2 trillion in spending cuts are scheduled to take effect, with the brunt being borne by the Department of Defense.
The two events have come to be known here as the “fiscal cliff,” and economists have warned that sharply higher tax rates and massive cuts in federal spending could push the country into a new recession.
President Barack Obama, who won a second term Tuesday, has insisted on raising tax rates on couples making more than $250,000 as part of any deal to cut spending.
Senate majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said at a news conference Wednesday that Obama's position had been validated by voters.
“People making all this money have to contribute a little bit more,” he said. “And all the exit polling, all the polling we've done, the vast majority of the American people support that, including rich people.”
But Republicans, who will still have a strong majority in the House next year, won't go along.
“That's a nonstarter,” Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, said Wednesday.
The economy is still as fragile as it was in 2010 when the president and congressional Democrats decided to extend the tax cuts, Lankford said.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on Wednesday said tax reform, which would limit the deductions claimed by the wealthiest taxpayers, would bring in additional revenue and meet the president's requirement for a balanced approach toward reducing the deficit.
Coburn, who has been working behind the scenes with Senate Democrats and Republicans on a broad deficit reduction plan, said there was no question that the wealthy benefited most from the tax code as written. Coburn has endorsed changes that would limit tax loopholes for those in upper brackets to bring in more federal revenue.
Coburn and Cole said a resolution will depend on how well Obama and Boehner can negotiate.
“The Obama-Boehner relationship will determine the shape of American politics and whether we can be successful in the next four years,” Cole said.
Lankford said he had assumed the voters would have resolved the deep conflicts in Washington.
“I do hope this all works out,” he said.
“In reality, I couldn't tell you.”