U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana appears to be the kind of congressman this country needs to solve its major financial problems. Scalise, R-Metairie, pulled off a big upset recently when he was elected chairman of the Republican conservative caucus. His defeat of a Georgia lawmaker, who had tea party backing, is significant in light of the impending “fiscal cliff.”
The immediate problem is what to do about the $671 billion in automatic tax increases and spending cuts coming in January if Congress and President Obama don’t come to terms. Economists worry that could trigger another devastating recession.
U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., credited Scalise’s success to hard work and a winning personality, according to The Times-Picayune. McHenry said Scalise continues to be tough on Democrats and President Obama, but is making few enemies.
“How did he do it?” the Picayune asked.
McHenry said, “Steve is an example of how things used to work in Congress. You’d battle it out and afterwards you can sit down and be friendly with one another.”
What a welcome attitude at a time when Republicans and Democrats can’t seem to find any common ground.
Scalise isn’t selling out, either. He’s still an anti-tax lawmaker. The Picayune said Scalise continues to argue that increasing taxes on the wealthy will only make the economy worse. He thinks using tax reform and elimination of unnecessary tax subsidies to lower overall tax rates would help the economy and increase federal revenues.
Unlike others, Scalise isn’t saying how he is going to vote before the president and Democrats lay all their cards on the table. The Picayune in another story said U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, and Scalise “are noticeably not drawing a line in the sand about opposing any deal their leaders strike with higher tax revenues.”
Unfortunately, some Democrats are drawing a line in the sand by saying they won’t support any cuts to popular programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. And Republicans aren’t budging on renewing tax cuts for the wealthy. Social Security appears to be off the table, but there is a little wiggle room on the other two entitlement programs.
Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., retiring chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said, “I’ve been part of every bipartisan group here. We’ve always put everything on the table. If you’re going to solve this problem, you’re going to have to deal with where the spending is and the revenue can be raised.”
Some Republicans have indicated a willingness to soften their anti-tax pledges signed with Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform. Among those are U.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Jeff Sessions of Alabama and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia.
“Oh, I signed it,” Sessions said on Fox News. “But we’ve got to deal with the crisis we face. We’ve got to deal with the political reality of the president’s victory.”
Corker told CBS News, “I’m not obligated on the pledge. I was just elected. The only thing I’m honoring is the oath I take when I’m sworn in this January.”
When on MSNBC, Corker said, “When I go to the constituents that have re-elected me, it is not about the pledge. It really is about trying to solve problems.”
Norquist had 279 pledge signers before the election, and that number drops to 212 when a new House is seated next year.
Those who are willing to deal with the hands they are dealt and who keep an open mind are called moderates, the subject of a David Brooks New York Times column published before the Nov. 6 election.
“For a certain sort of conservative, tax cuts and smaller government are always the answer, no matter what the situation,” Brooks said. “For a certain sort of liberal, tax increases for the rich and more government programs are always the answer.
“The moderate does not believe that there are policies that are permanently right. Situations matter most. Tax cuts might be right one decade but wrong the next. Tighter regulations might be right one decade, but if sclerosis (excessive resistance to change) sets in then deregulation might be in order.”
An Associated Press report on Wednesday indicates there still aren’t enough moderates in both parties to come up with an acceptable compromise in order to avoid higher taxes and budget cuts for all Americans coming in January.
Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said President Obama believes a broad, balanced approach is needed to deal with “fiscal challenges, and that includes dealing with entitlements (Medicare and Medicaid).”
Here is the problem, according to The AP: “But even if GOP lawmakers agree to raise taxes, there is no guarantee Democrats can come up with enough votes in the Senate to cut benefit programs — as Republicans are demanding.”
Compromise appears to be as difficult today as it was before the election. And that is why Congress needs more people like Rep. Scalise, who became chairman of the Republican conservative caucus because of his history of “getting things done.” Not enough congressmen and congresswomen can make that claim, but it isn’t too late for others to put their hard-line views aside in order to solve the country’s fiscal crisis on a longterm basis.
Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 337-494-4025 or [email protected].