Tax increases on middle class - the wealthy - budget cuts - Congress can't decide as "fiscal cliff" nears

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By Johnny Kampis | Missouri Watchdog
ST. LOUIS — Tick tock goes the fiscal clock, and when the alarm sounds taxes will rise.

The nation will fall off the so-called “fiscal cliff” in less than three weeks unless Congress can reach an agreement on a combination of budget cuts and tax increases.

But as the days draw nearer to 2013, when Bush-era tax cuts expire and rates stand to go up, Missouri’s congressional delegation seems as divided on the issue as the rest of the nation.

“The clock is ticking, no question about that,” said Steve Walsh, Rep. Vicky Hartzler’s press secretary.

If nothing is done the average American family’s tax bill stands to go up between about $3,000 to $4,000, depending on which study you believe. The Heritage Foundation said the average Missourian would pay $2,634 more in taxes next year.

Republicans generally favor cutting spending, while Democrats seek higher tax rates for the highest income earners.

Walsh said Hartzler, a Republican representing U.S. House District 4, believes punishing “job creators” would cause higher unemployment.

“If they have to pay those taxes, how much money will they have left over for new hires?” Walsh said in an interview with Missouri Watchdog on Tuesday.

“She (Hartzler) is opposed to increasing taxes on anybody in a time when we’re trying to come out of tough financial times.”

With the political parties at loggerheads, comprised will be needed. But can it come before Dec. 31?

Missouri’s Republican U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt recently expressed his frustration with the party across the aisle.

“I think the White House wants to act like there is a ledge under this cliff that you jump off and maybe you don’t fall too far,” he said during a conference call with reporters. “But everybody that evaluates what happens if all you do is raise taxes says this has bad economic impact.”

He touts studies that show raising taxes on higher-income earners making more than $250,000 a year would results in the loss of 700,000 jobs.

Blunt’s Democratic counterpart in Missouri, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, is continuing her moderate ways on the fiscal cliff issue by calling for compromise.

“There has to be money in all three legs of the stool,” she said recently. “There has to be some money from entitlement reform. There has to be spending cuts, and there has to be revenue.”

That hasn’t brought her love from many Democrats. A handful of liberal organizations, including the National Educators Association, launched a television ad in Missouri last week urging McCaskill to oppose any cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

It also spurred dozens of retirees and union activists to march from the St. Louis Social Security office to McCaskill’s Gateway City office Monday to hand deliver a letter urging her to continue being “a champion for working families.”

“She’s been there for us previously, and we really want her to be there for us again, in the future, to protect the people who are most vulnerable,’’ said Alexandra Townsend, a representative of the labor union American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Similar rallies were held outside district offices for other Missouri congressional members, including at Rep. Emanuel Cleaver’s Kansas City headquarters.

The Democratic Cleaver and McCaskill advocate means-testing so that wealthy Americans pay higher premiums for their Medicare coverage.

“I think most rational people, including Democrats, agree we have to make some cuts and deal with Medicare,” Cleaver said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” last week. “Let’s have some means testing because I don’t think that cutting benefits at this time is going to go over well.”

Cleaver, who represents House District 3, posted a survey for his constituents on his website asking “What do you think Congress should do to avoid these cuts?”

Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer’s press secretary, Paul Sloca, told Watchdog that cuts to entitlement programs are “a necessary tool to get our economy back on track.”

“Blaine believes we have to address the true drivers of spending,” Sloca said.

The Republican who represents House District 9, the largest geographical area in Missouri, is not seeing enough cross-party negotiations to make him optimistic of a pre-New Year’s Day compromise.

“He’s more pessimistic that most, but he remains hopeful a deal can be worked out,” Sloca said.

The glass-half-empty view is shared by Rep. Todd Akin, who will pass the House District 2 seat to Ann Wagner after losing his U.S. Senate bid against McCaskill.

“My gut is that the elements that created the gridlock haven’t changed. I think you’ll see a little give but not a whole lot of give,” he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “My concern is that when we go into next year, we’re going to see a very large tax increase.”