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View From the Hill: Back in the saddle ...

By Grace Boatright, National Grange Legislative Director (View From The Hill Blog 12/6/12)

  DECEMBER 7, 2012 --

I’m sure a bunch of you are wondering if I’m dead. I can happily report that I am not. I was just gone from the office for three weeks- nearly two at our Convention in Boise and then another week in Austin visiting my family. Now I’m back in the swing of things and ready to rock n roll.

Quite a lot has happened in the last month, most notably that the election is over. For Christmas this year, America will be getting a new Congress. However, despite the “new” Congress, I think we’re going to get more of the “old” treatment because nothing really changed. Republicans still control the House and Democrats still control the Senate and White House. I was so desperately hoping that one of those would change hands just so we could avoid continued gridlock here in Washington. Unfortunately, I didn’t get my wish and now I’m afraid we’re going to have more of the same for at least the next two years until the 2014 elections.

The lame duck session is well underway and is already proving to be very lame indeed. Despite our hopes of a 2012 Farm Bill and some postal reform, I think the fiscal cliff situation will continue to dominate their time right up until the end.

In case you’re not paying attention to the news, the “fiscal cliff” refers to the automatic tax hikes and across the board spending cuts set to occur on January 1st if Congress and the White House don’t hammer something out. The tax hikes will affect just about every tax bracket, with taxes for the average middle class family going up by an estimated $2,000 or more a year.

Truthfully, I really don’t know how the fiscal cliff situation will end. It’s just my guess, but I think that whatever does happen won’t occur until the very last minute. They are going to battle it out as long as they can, with both sides believing that the other will cave. The White House and Senate Democrats want higher tax rates for people making over $250,000 and few cuts to any entitlement programs (Social Security, Medicare, etc.). House Republicans want government spending reduced significantly, primarily by reforming things like Social Security and Medicare, and they oppose any rise in tax rates. As always, the solution is probably somewhere in the middle.

Frankly, I think we all need to seriously consider the idea that they might let this whole thing blow up. Obama thinks that people will blame Republicans and Republicans think that people will blame Obama. The difference is that Obama really doesn’t have much to lose at this point while everyone in the House and Senate has to run for reelection again.

Most economists agree that going over the “cliff” would throw the U.S. back into another recession. “Another recession” always makes me giggle because I’m not sure we ever left the last one, regardless of what the economics nerds say about business cycles, GDP, interest rates and all that jazz (I was a finance major before you accuse me of being critical). The unemployment rate is still high; at least much higher than the government would have you think because a significant number of people have completely given up looking for a job and are no longer counted as unemployed. Those who do have a job aren’t exactly feeling stable and affluent yet.  And of course there’s always the $16 trillion deficit which would indicate that we’re still in a crappy situation. Bottom line: I’m not sure the fiscal cliff will trigger “another recession” but it definitely won’t help the current situation.

As always, I encourage all of you to contact your representatives and let them know how you feel and tell them what you’d like to see come out of the fiscal cliff negotiations…or lack thereof. I can’t promise that they will consider your request but as we all know, staying quiet will guarantee that your opinion will not be considered.

It’s good to be home. Talk to you later.

-Grace Boatright
National Grange Legislative Director
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