Alexander, Corker Join on Fiscal Cliff, Medicare Cuts:
Focus on Medicare, Not Taxes During news conferences on Friday, U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker predicted that the “fiscal cliff” tax situation will be resolved and decried another “fiscal cliff no one wants to talk about, the looming bankruptcy of Medicare,” reports the Bristol Herald-Courier.
There was a lot more reporting on the matter. A sampler:
Congress will act within days or weeks — perhaps even this weekend — to stem any increase in income taxes for almost all Americans in response to an inevitable public outcry, The Tennessean reported.
“I would like them (taxes) to stay the same (for everybody), but I am not king here,” Alexander said at a joint press conference with his Tennessee colleague.
The article also has comments from the two senators saying they still think they did the right thing in voting for the package of legislation that brought on the “fiscal cliff.” U.S. Reps. Marsha Blackburn and Scott DesJarlais offer similar comments — though Blackburn voted for the bill in question, DesJarlais against.
From the News-Sentinel: U.S. senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker said Friday taxes will not increase for most Americans and insisted “fiscal cliff” negotiations will either address pending hikes before Monday’s deadline or through retroactive legislation in the new year.
With that confidence, Tennessee’s senators turned to spending cuts and offered a proposal to exchange a $1 trillion reduction in entitlement spending — mostly from Medicare — for a $1 trillion rise in the federal debt ceiling.
“Taxes is not the biggest uncertainty,” Alexander said. “That is the possibility that all of those Americans who depend on Medicare to pay for their medical bills to fall off the fiscal cliff because Medicare goes bankrupt.”
The plan, which the senators have dubbed the “Dollar for Dollar Act,” was introduced by Corker on Dec. 12. Its details include reforming Medicare to include competition from private health-care options, gradually raising the eligibility age to 67 by 2027, requiring high-income beneficiaries to pay higher premiums and giving flexibility to the states to manage the program.
‘Total Dereliction of Duty’
CBS News aired a Corker interview wherein he chides President Obama and congressional leaders for “a total dereliction of duty at every level” and “a lack of course to deal with the spending issues.”
“I’m very surprised that the President has not laid out a very specific plan to deal with this,” said Corker, admitting, “Candidly, Congress could have done the same. And I think the American people should be disgusted.”
While Corker granted that “98 percent of the people in our country can be assured…their income taxes are going to be the same,” he argued, “We here in Washington are going to hurt the American economy, we’re going to hurt Americans at every level, and to me it’s just a travesty that we’ve not been willing to deal with this issue.”
And Corker did not predict much progress from (Friday’s) meeting between the President and congressional leaders, predicting a “worst case scenario” in which “We’ll kick the can down the road…we’ll do some small deal, and we’ll create another fiscal cliff to deal with this fiscal cliff.”
There’s a Milk Cliff,, Too
Tennessee dairy farmers soon could get paid substantially higher prices for their milk, but they’re not relishing the prospect, says The Tennessean. Instead, they fear it could make milk so expensive — potentially as much as $6 to $8 a gallon, by some estimates — that even more people stop drinking it.
“I don’t think it would kill our industry, but it would seriously injure it,” said Deborah Boyd, secretary/treasurer of the Tennessee Dairy Producers Association.
Those “dairy cliff” fears are based on Congress’ inability to pass a new five-year farm bill to replace one that is set to expire on Monday. The bill outlines how the federal government determines prices paid to dairy farmers.
Unless a new bill is passed or the current one is extended — Congressional leaders said Friday they were working on an extension — a 1949 law would take effect. That law would force the U.S. Department of Agriculture to pay roughly $38 per 100 pounds for milk, or double the current prevailing price.
Experts say that would ultimately increase the retail price for milk, which now averages $3.59 a gallon, as well as for other dairy products such as cheese and yogurt.
DesJarlais: Republicans Frustrated
House Republicans feel stymied but not hopeless as they prepare to return to Capitol Hill for possible last-minute action to avoid the “fiscal cliff,” Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais tells The Tennessean.
DesJarlais, of Jasper, Tenn., was one of 234 members of his caucus who listened in on a conference call Thursday with House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. Boehner said the House will return to work Sunday at 6:30 p.m. and remain in session in case lawmakers and President Barack Obama reach agreement on a deal to avoid more than $600 billion in tax increases and spending cuts that will otherwise take effect on Tuesday. Economists fear the combination could jar the nation’s economy back into recession.
DesJarlais said in an interview from his Tennessee home Thursday that it’s up to the Senate to come forward with a plan now, an opinion also expressed by Boehner. “But all we are hearing is crickets,” DesJarlais said. Asked if Republicans feel a lack of hope about a possible solution, he said, “It’s more frustration.”