Christmas is over, but Cliffmas is still bearing down. Here’s your morning shot of reality from the good folks at Politico:
Nearly all the major players in the fiscal cliff negotiations are starting to agree on one thing: A deal is virtually impossible before the New Year.
Unlike the bank bailout in 2008, the tax deal in 2010 and the debt ceiling in 2011, the Senate almost certainly won’t swoop in and help sidestep a potential economic calamity, senior officials in both parties predicted on Wednesday.
With the country teetering on this fiscal cliff of deep spending cuts and sharp tax hikes, the philosophical differences, the shortened timetable and the political dynamics appear to be insurmountable hurdles for a bipartisan deal by New Year’s Day.
Lawmakers are starting to emerge from their egg nog break today: President Barack Obama is flying back to D.C. from Hawaii, and lands late this morning. His Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner shot up a flare Wednesday reminding everyone that we officially hit the debt limit Dec. 31, though Treasury can shuffle funds for a couple months until it’s really a problem. Our fine lads in Congress, of course, are blaming each other for the fiscal cliff impasse.
The House has taken its ball and gone home after the Plan B fiasco, and Speaker John Boehner and other House leaders reiterated Wednesday that they will not return until the Senate does something with the fiscal cliff bills the House passed months ago to extend all the Bush tax cuts and shift all the Pentagon cuts to domestic programs. The Senate is back in action this evening on non-cliff business, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid just insisted on the floor that a tax bill the Senate passed months ago to extend the tax rates for income under $250,000 is “the only viable escape route.” He added, “We’ve not heard a word from [Republican] Leader [Mitch] McConnell. Nothing has happened.”
Isn’t it crazy that Americans have such a low opinion of Congress?
You are entering a world of pain: Aside from the fiscal cliff, a couple more economy-stifling presents arrive soon if standoffs continue. Because Congress has been unable to pass a farm bill, we face the “milk cliff.” Bloomberg’s Derek Wallbank explains:
If Congress doesn’t extend the U.S. dairy support program, which is one of the programs covered in the larger farm-policy law, it will revert to the way it was in 1949, roughly doubling wholesale milk prices.
“Fiscal-cliff tax increases would hit middle-class families’ pocketbooks, but so would paying six or seven dollars for a gallon of milk,” said Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat.
And down in Savannah, a labor dispute could halt operations at the Port. The longshoremen’s union contract expires midnight Saturday, but at least the Savannah Morning News reports that both sides are talking. The Biz Journals note that a 2002 strike cost $1 billion per day.
State Rep.-elect Charles Gregory caused a stir by announcing he would introduce new gun rights measures in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary. Gregory responded to the criticism with an online commentary in which he explains the timing thusly:
History shows us that we lose more of our freedoms during times of crisis and tragedy than at any other time. This is how we have allowed government to pass such un-constitutional human rights abuses as The Patriot Act and The National Defense Authorization Act.
Gregory also offers to “dispel a few myths” including:
Slate magazine has a lengthy piece up about how Georgia has become “one of the toughest places in the nation to get welfare assistance.”
What’s Georgia’s secret? According to government documents, interviews with poor Georgians, and those who work with them, it’s a simple one: Combine an all-Republican state government out to make a name for itself as tough on freeloaders; a state welfare commissioner so zealous about slashing the rolls that workers say she handed out Zero candy bars to emphasize her goal of zero welfare; and federal rules that, regardless of who’s in the White House, give states the leeway to use the 1996 law’s requirement for “work activities”—the same provision that Republicans have charged President Obama wants to unfairly water down—to slam the door in the face of the state’s neediest.
What this has created is a land that welfare forgot, where a collection of private charities struggle to fill the resulting holes.
The Washington Post’s Amy Gardner delved into the controversy involving FreedomWorks — the tea party-driven group that had a messy divorce with former House Majority Leader Dick Armey. Apparently it involved a firearm.
Richard K. Armey, the group’s chairman and a former House majority leader, walked into the group’s Capitol Hill offices with his wife, Susan, and an aide holstering a handgun at his waist. The aim was to seize control of the group and expel Armey’s enemies: The gun-wielding assistant escorted FreedomWorks’ top two employees off the premises, while Armey suspended several others who broke down in sobs at the news.
The coup lasted all of six days. By Sept. 10, Armey was gone — with a promise of $8 million — and the five ousted employees were back. The force behind their return was Richard J. Stephenson, a reclusive Illinois millionaire who has exerted increasing control over one of Washington’s most influential conservative grass-roots organizations.
FreedomWorks’ offices, in fact, are next door to the Cox DC Bureau where your fill-in Insider is currently sitting. And we were sadly oblivious to the drama.
President George H.W. Bush is in intensive care in Houston battling a “persistent fever.”
- By Daniel Malloy, Political Insider