Positives in ‘fiscal cliff’ deal

Brattleobro Reformer

Thursday January 3, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- In the political chaos that surrounded last-minute passage of the so-called "fiscal cliff" legislation, members of Vermont’s delegation found some reasons for optimism.

Chief among them was the fact that any bill was approved in a gridlocked, contentious Congress.

"We can make great progress if we’re willing to put reasonable bills on the floor that draw support from both sides," said Democratic U.S. Rep. Peter Welch.

Vermont’s sole member of the House credited Republican House Speaker John Boehner for bringing the bill to a vote.

"It was his decision. It was a brave decision," Welch said. "And it was the right decision."

Democratic U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy also lauded the bipartisan vote that averted automatic tax hikes and deep spending cuts that had come to be labeled a "fiscal cliff" due to their expected impact on the economy.

"I hope this is a sign that Republican leaders may begin allowing members to vote on other key issues such as Hurricane Sandy relief and a five-year farm bill," Leahy said.

At the same time, though, Leahy -- who signed the bill in his new role as Senate president pro tem -- decried the prolonged fiscal-cliff debate’s "needless uncertainty" that he attributes to "a made-in-Congress" crisis imposed on everyone by factional obstructionism in the House.

"Uncertainty is corrosive throughout the economy," Leahy said. "Farmers need to plan not just for the next month but for the next year. Uncertainty affects doctors and their Medicare patients, families who need to know if they can count on continuation of the education tax credit, and businesses contemplating expansion. Prolonged uncertainty on these basic questions hurts everyone."

Vermont’s senior senator joined Welch and Independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in saying the legislation was not ideal but was necessary to end that uncertainty -- at least for now.

"The ‘fiscal cliff’ agreement was not a ‘good’ piece of legislation, but not passing the bill would have been much worse," Sanders said.

Sanders, who won a second term in November, returned to a familiar campaign theme -- preservation of Social Security. He said the cliff-averting bill did not alter the method by which that program’s cost-of-living adjustments are calculated "despite an 11th-hour bid by Senate Republicans" to do so.

"Social Security has not contributed a nickel to the deficit, has a $2.7 trillion surplus and can pay all benefits owed to every eligible American for the next 21 years," Sanders said. "At a time when so many Americans are hurting, it makes no sense to balance the budget on the backs of seniors and the disabled."

Sanders also was happy that the bill extended a tax credit that benefits wind-power developers.

"This is a win-win for our economy and our environment," Sanders said.

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