Montana's two U.S. senators said Tuesday they're hopeful Congress and President Barack Obama can reach a deal on avoiding the tax-and-budget "fiscal cliff" this year -- but that longer-term solutions may be pushed into next year.
"I hope we solve as much of it as we can; I think we should start big and just keep pushing for a solution," said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. "But having said that, the calendar is not exactly working in our favor."
Baucus, speaking by telephone from his Washington, D.C., office, said Obama and Republican U.S. House Speaker John Boehner will meet after Thanksgiving, but that gives Congress only three or four weeks before it must adjourn for the year. A new Congress takes office in January.
Baucus, as chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, is likely to play a key role in the negotiations, particularly on tax issues.
Tester, D-Mont., who just emerged from a tough re-election battle with U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., said in an interview he hopes a short-term deal can avert the so-called fiscal cliff and that the new Congress in 2013 can craft a long-term strategy of deficit reduction.
"There are plenty of blueprints to work off," he said. "If we are able to work together, that's going to be the key to all of this stuff. ... There are folks on both sides of the aisle that want to get things done, that really haven't been happy the last several years, when it's been a hyper-partisan attitude."
Rehberg, back in Washington, D.C., for the final few weeks of his term, could not be reached for comment.
The fiscal cliff is the combination of federal income-tax increases and automatic, across-the-board spending cuts effective in January, if Congress doesn't act.
Most economists have said the tax increases and spending cuts are too severe, and should be scaled back to prevent a blow to the U.S. economy.
Baucus and Tester said they're optimistic about Congress crafting a long-term solution, in part because they're sensing strong public support for compromise, by both sides.
"When I was home last weekend, that's all I heard: 'Max, resolve that fiscal cliff, get it done,'" Baucus said. "If I'm hearing that at home, all around the state, I've got to suspect that other members of Congress are hearing the same plea in their state.
"I'm not hearing 'Just cut spending,' or 'Don't cut entitlements,' or 'Don't raise my taxes.' All I'm hearing is, 'Get it done.'"
However, Baucus said he wants to make sure any deal is fair to rural states like Montana, and that any revenue increases should fall more heavily on the wealthy.
"They can afford it more, and also, because it's important to me to have a strong middle class," he said. "A stronger middle class is better for the wealthy (too), because they're buying stuff and consuming goods."
Tester also said he's against raising taxes on the middle class, and said revenue increases should come from those earning more than $250,000 a year.
Tester and Baucus also said they expect Congress to take a hard look at the tax code and numerous tax credits, with an eye toward simplifying federal taxes and making them more "competitive" with other countries' taxes.
"I think there is an incredible opportunity ... to take a look at (tax credits and rates) and see if they're actually doing what they intended to do -- and eliminate ones that aren't," Tester said.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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