With the president and the House speaker signaling a willingness to work on an elusive grand bargain on the nations deficit and debt, two Idaho Republican lawmakers are poised to play key roles.
I think the election made it easier for both the president and Congress, said Sen. Mike Crapo, a member of the bipartisan Gang of Six that urged federal leaders last year to push for just such a bargain.
That gang has now grown to eight and has support from 40 senators, Crapo said.
But beyond that, he said, both Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner are showing a new willingness to compromise and many of the departing members of Congress want to get the work done before they go in January.
Rep. Mike Simpson, a close Boehner ally and chairman of an influential spending subcommittee, said putting together a deal will take leadership and statesmanship.
Its going to take people from both sides of the aisle reaching across to find a deal, he said.
Crapo and Simpson spent the past year urging Congress to go big in crafting a deal that incorporated spending cuts, Social Security and Medicare reforms, and changes to the tax code that eliminate breaks and loopholes.
Obama insisted Friday on freezing middle-class taxes and raising taxes for people like him who make more than $250,000. Boehner said he and the House wont support any tax increases.
But Boehner said possible increased revenues are on the table as a part of tax reform. And both he and Obama said they are eager to talk compromise when Obama convenes a group of congressional leaders next week.
This is an opportunity for the president to lead, Boehner said.
AVOIDING THE CLIFF
Crapo says a comprehensive plan of entitlement reform, budget cuts and a tax package that sets binding targets and deadlines can resolve both the long-term deficit issues and the looming year-end budget and tax choices known as the fiscal cliff.
Facing Congress in the post-election lame-duck session that begins Monday are Dec. 31 deadlines for the Bush-era tax cuts, the payroll tax cut and more than $600 billion in federal budget cuts 4 percent of the U.S. gross national product that would be made by the end of 2013. Economists say such harsh measures could send the economy back into a recession.
My first preference is we put together that kind of plan in the lame-duck session, Crapo said.
President Obama appointed Crapo to the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission, which proposed $4 trillion in long-term trims to the deficit. That plan featuring changes in entitlement programs, lowering of tax rates and elimination of tax breaks, along with cuts to federal programs died when it got little support, including from the president.
Crapo kept pushing as a member of the Gang of Six senators.
The stumbling block has long been the issue of raising taxes on wealthy Americans. President Obama made it a core of his campaign promises; with his re-election, his supporters are watching to see whether he delivers. But House Republicans ran on a platform of no tax increases.
Both President Obama and Speaker Boehner have said they were willing to come together on these larger issues, Crapo said.
But such a grand bargain could take longer to work out, both lawmakers said.
If youre going to reform the tax code, if youre going to reform the entitlement program, thats not something you can do in a couple of weeks, Simpson said.
OUTLINES OF A DEAL
Crapo envisions a bill that would set caps on federal budgets and entitlement costs; a range of possible tax rates; and enforcement provisions to ensure that goals are met. Then these broad outlines would be handed over to the respective congressional committees, with deadlines, to hammer out the details.
Crapo, who will move up to be the No. 2 Republican on the Finance Committee, would be involved in writing the tax provisions.
Simpson, an Appropriations subcommittee chairman, would be working on the budget cuts.
If you do something big, you have to involve the committees, Simpson said.
BAD FOR AMERICA
Obama and Boehner sought a deal in 2011, but opposition from the extremes on both sides, especially in the House, stopped it.
Idaho Republican Rep. Raul Labrador was one of the freshmen in Boehners caucus who prevailed on holding firm on taxes.
He was not available for comment Friday. But during his Idaho debate with Democratic candidate Jimmy Farris, Labrador said he did not want Congress to take any major action during the lame-duck session.
Every major decision that is made during a lame-duck session is actually bad for America, he said.
Rocky Barker: 377-6484