Category: Breaking News Written by Minehaha Forman
Gov. Rick Snyder on Thursday signed legislation to replace Public Act 4, an emergency manager law that was overturned by a public vote in November.
Snyder says the new law emergency manager (EM) law, Public Act 436 of 2012, is a improvement on the voter-rejected version.
The new EM legislation, much like it’s predecessor, allows the state to intervene in cities and school districts facing financial troubles.
The difference is that leaders in targeted municipalities now have a choice as to how the state gets involved.
Under the new EM law, locally elected officials in cash poor cities and school districts have four options. They can chose between a consent agreement with the state, chapter 9 bankruptcy, mediation, or an emergency manager.
"This legislation demonstrates that we clearly heard, recognized and respected the will of the voters," Snyder said Thursday in a statement. "It builds in local control and options while also ensuring the tools to protect communities and school districts' residents, students and taxpayers."
Because Michigan voters repealed the old EM law by rejecting Proposal 1 on the November ballot, the new law includes an appropriation making it immune to referendum, or public vote.
The new law also allows emergency managers, should a city opt for one, to break union contracts if labor negotiations fall through. The power to break union contracts is a power usually used in municipal bankruptcy proceedings.
Under current Michigan law, a city must first go under state-appointed financial control before it is eligible for bankruptcy
The new law gives local officials the option to reject an appointed EFM’s proposal on how to fix finances, but they must come up with a viable alternative. Ultimately, a state panel would have the power to decide which plan to use and an emergency manager would implement it.
One key difference between PA 4 and the new PA 436 is that local leaders now have the power to remove a state-appointed emergency manager after one year by a 2/3-majority vote.
Another significant change is that the new EM law requires the state to pay emergency manager salaries instead of requiring financially struggling municipalities and school districts to cover the costs.
Still, critics of emergency manager legislation pledge to fight the new EM law.
Greg Bowens, a spokesman for the Stand Up For Democracy coalition whose efforts led to repeal PA 4, said the new legislation is not much different.
"We think that the governor's view of what the will of the voters is is quite different from what the actual voters did,"
Bowens told MLive.com, calling the new law “The worst Christmas present that municipalities could have.”
The City of Detroit may be added to a list of cities facing state intervention. This month, Gov. Snyder commissioned a state review of the city’s finances that could result in the appointment of an EM, or other state-mandated options.
Last Updated on Monday, 31 December 2012 11:12
Category: News Briefs Written by Dr. Andre Perry , The Root
On the University of New Orleans' WWNO website, Andre Perry writes that America's favorite storyline is one of an underdog who exacts revenge, often in blood. It seems a bit ridiculous, then, when critics call Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained too violent. What happened to peace? he asks.
What is fascinating about Tarantino and his fetish for violence is that he reveals our cultural wants and desires. Tarantino sees our national mores so well because he wears so much of his own on his sleeve. In the United States, to make things right you've got to get even. Getting even means blowing someone's head off.
After one of the most unspeakable acts of mass murder and gun violence ever committed on American soil, the following days saw gun sales go up. Critiquing Tarantino for having too much gun violence is the national pot calling the kettle black.
Just as I paid for and enjoyed Django, we morbidly cheer when someone gets even using violence. As Martin Luther King, Jr. pointed out, eye for an eye forms of justice leaves everybody blind. In one of the final scenes after Django exacts revenge, his antagonist Stephen, played by Samuel Jackson screams, "You're going to be the one who's on those wanted posters." The cycle of getting even never ends.
Last Updated on Monday, 31 December 2012 10:21
Category: News Briefs Written by Ivory Johnson, The Grio
The American public is finally coming to grips with the consequences of going over the fiscal cliff, even as special interest groups fiercely protect territory abducted in previous legislative battles. Nobody should be shocked by this development, except Generation X who came late to the beer party and could be stuck with the entire tab.
Inebriated citizens notwithstanding, the bills are finally coming due. Congress, heaving under the invisible weight of $16 trillion, spent decades ostracizing anyone who would challenge their math. Those who discussed the accumulating debt were caricatured as noble street preachers, scoffed at and dismissed by budget chairmen with a congenial disregard usually reserved for less formal settings.
And yet the fiscal cliff appears before us.
Should the scheduled sequestration go into effect on January 1, 2013, the economy is projected to contract at an annualized rate of 2.9 percent in the first half of 2013 and by 0.5 percent over the entire year. Moreover, the unemployment rate could rise to 9.1 percent at the end of the year from 7.7 percent today. Unfortunately, a sluggish economy would mitigate government revenue required to service the debt, while taking no action at all would increase the nation’s burden by $7.5 trillion.
Throughout this tug of incomplete policies, it’s been understood that out of control government spending led to this inevitable showdown. According to “White House Burning”, however, non-defense discretionary outlays have been four percent of GDP for the last 50 years, suggesting that our demand for government cuts has been largely misdirected. Truth be told, the increasing expenditures are a direct result of the rising cost of entitlement benefits, as people are living longer and health care costs have been skyrocketing for decades.
Meanwhile, social security retirement and disability trust funds would be depleted in 2033 and incoming revenue would only be enough to cover three-quarters of scheduled benefits. Furthermore, the Medicare Trustees now claim that trust fund will be exhausted by 2024. It seems that Generation X has bad timing, born too late to benefit from the profligate spending and still old enough to suffer the consequences.
In fact, one could make the argument that the demographic with the most to lose has yet to consolidate its political power and influence policy. Virtually every proposed solution to the entitlement shortfalls concentrates the sacrifices on a generation with little responsibility, whether it involves raising FICA taxes on younger workers during their peak earning years, delaying full retirement age or lowering the CPI growth assumptions for social security.
The AARP already has a well-deserved seat at the table, defending the interests of Baby Boomers who aggregately voted for low taxes, small government and personal responsibility. In light of the unfunded entitlement liabilities, it’s worth mentioning that seniors receive far more in services than they pay into the system.
Nevertheless, a staunch advocacy group for Generation X is largely absent from the discussion despite having few crumbs from the cookie jar visible on their fingers. If we’re serious about addressing the greatest fiscal dilemma in our nation’s history, the entire populace will have to cut back, pitch in and shoulder the weight of reckless economic policies.
In the absence of all voices being heard and incorporated into viable solutions, subsequent legislation may be to the detriment of future job creators, something that has already been addressed with great volume.
Last Updated on Monday, 31 December 2012 10:02
Category: Breaking News Written by Perry Bacon Jr, The Grio
Rumors of the demise of the Tea Party have been greatly exaggerated.
The victory of Mitt Romney in the GOP primaries over more conservative opponents, the resounding reelection of President Obama and defeat of Tea Party favorites like Florida’s Allen West suggested that the movement was much weaker than when it rose to power in 2010.
But the fiscal cliff debated has illustrated the enduring influence of the Tea Party and more broadly, the power of very conservative members of the Republican Party. It’s generally assumed in Washington that both President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell could easily reach a deal to resolve the fiscal cliff if just the three of them were negotiating.
Instead, Boehner in particular must constantly worry about appeasing the political right. Many of the 241 Republicans in House are very worried if they vote for a tax increase, or essentially any bill President Obama also supports, they will face a primary challenge from a more conservative candidate and potentially lose. Most House districts have been drawn so that they are either heavily-Democratic or heavily-Republican, so the easiest way for a Republican to remain in office is to placate conservatives at all times, as there is little chance in many of these districts for a Democrat to win. (Here’s the New York Times’ Nate Silver explaining that of the 435 House districts, about 125 are overwhelming conservative, while 117 heavily favor Democrats.)
This dynamic was illustrated very clearly when Boehner begged and pleaded with Republicans last week, but could not persuade them to back a tax increase on family income over $1 million, far about the $250,000 threshold President Obama is pushing for.
Obama does not face such political pressures from his base. He is pushing for a broader deficit reduction deal that could increase the age that people are eligible for Medicare from 65 to 67 and gradually reduce Social Security benefits. Liberal Democrats are unhappy about both of those ideas as well as Obama’s decision to accept the withdrawal of Susan Rice as a candidate for Secretary of State amid harsh criticism of her from John McCain and other Republicans.
But Democrats in Congress don’t have to worry about primary challenges like Republicans do, as the party’s base is unlikely to punish members for backing something that the Democratic president does.
Republicans in Congress don’t feel such confidence about supporting a policy just because their leaders do. And they shouldn’t. The last three years have seen Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate cast as too moderate and lose primaries because they supported bills like the 2008 Wall Street bailout that party leaders also voted for. Boehner can’t guarantee his members won’t face primary challenges from the right, so there is little surprise they won’t follow his lead.
And the influence of conservatives and the Tea Party will endure beyond the fiscal cliff. Most Republican strategists believe the GOP needs to move to the political left on some issues, particularly immigration and gay rights. They argue the overall Republican brand is very unpopular with minority and young voters in particular, and that makes it extremely hard to win presidential elections.
But individual House Republicans are more concerned about their own reelection than the party’s prospects in 2016. So if Obama pushes for a bill that makes it easier for undocumented workers to become citizens, House Republicans will face a similar quandary to what they are dealing with on the fiscal cliff. Backing the bill would prevent the overall Republican Party from being cast as obstructionist. But for individual members, such a vote would put them in danger of facing a primary challenge from a conservative Republican who casts such legislation as “amnesty.”
Last Updated on Monday, 31 December 2012 09:44
Category: Breaking News Written by Elise Labott,CNN
(CNN) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was hospitalized Sunday after doctors discovered a blood clot during a follow-up exam related to a concussion she suffered this month, her spokesman said.
She is expected to remain at New York Presbyterian Hospital for the next 48 hours so doctors can monitor her condition and treat her with anti-coagulants, said Philippe Reines, deputy assistant secretary of state.
"Her doctors will continue to assess her condition, including other issues associated with her concussion," Reines said. "They will determine if any further action is required."
Reines did not specify where the clot was discovered.
Clinton, 65, was suffering from a stomach virus earlier this month when she fainted due to dehydration, causing the concussion.
Clinton spent the holidays with her family last week after working from home.
She was scheduled to return to work at the State Department this week after being sidelined for the past three weeks. Her illness forced her to bow out of testifying December 20 before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Deputies Thomas Nides and Bill Burns appeared in her place.
The medical setback comes as Clinton is wrapping up her busy tenure as secretary of state, during which she has logged more than 400 travel days and nearly a million miles. She plans to step down from the post if and when Sen. John Kerry -- President Barack Obama's choice to replace her -- is confirmed by the Senate.
Last Updated on Monday, 31 December 2012 09:48
Category: Breaking News Written by Hillary Crosley , The Root
During his first Meet the Press appearance since 2009, President Obama told NBC's David Gregory that Republicans in Congress are the stumbling block in the path toward resolving the fiscal cliff. Monday is the deadline for the POTUS and Congress to reach an agreement.
"They say that their biggest priority is making sure that we deal with the deficit in a serious way, but the way they're behaving is that their only priority is making sure that tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are protected," Obama said. "That seems to be their only overriding, unifying theme."
With a little more than one day remaining before the nation faces automatic spending cuts and tax hikes that could impact an already-wobbling American economy, the president implied that there has been little progress in recent days to justify hopes of a last-minute deal to prevent going over the fiscal cliff at year's end.
"I was modestly optimistic yesterday, but we don't yet see an agreement," he said in the interview, taped on Saturday at the White House. "And now the pressure's on Congress to produce."
Last Updated on Monday, 31 December 2012 09:16
Category: Breaking News Written by Kathy Barks Hoffman
Two years from now, hundreds of thousands of Michigan students will be expected to go online to take computerized statewide math, language arts and other standardized tests that now are conducted with paper and pencils.
The benefits include quicker results for school districts, tests that more accurately track what individual students know and longer test times for students who need them.
Yet, even as the demands of the computer age grow, many school districts are woefully behind the curve when it comes to having the technology in place they’ll need to conduct the tests. Juggling a mix of aging computers, frail networks, limited bandwidth and stripped-down information technology staffs with few of the resources available to their counterparts in the private sector, many school districts will have to make major technology investments if they’re going to be ready for students to take the mandatory tests online by spring 2015.
Lawmakers set aside $50 million in the 2012-13 school aid budget for school districts, intermediate districts and charter schools that participate in a Michigan Department of Education technology readiness survey and successfully apply for competitive grants to develop or upgrade their technology infrastructure. Districts must respond to the survey by today. The department recently began taking grant requests and will start handing out money in January.
As of Nov. 13, 39 percent of school districts and charter schools statewide had completed the survey. Of those, nearly 1 in 5 reported that they don’t have the necessary network bandwidth to handle large-scale testing. Further, around 10 percent of the computers in these districts lack enough memory to run the tests.
Proposed changes to state loan program could limit schools’ ability to buy tech
Districts that link up with other districts or their intermediate school districts to jointly purchase equipment or collaborate on services to become “test ready” stand a good chance of getting some money, as do districts that increase educators’ ability to plan and implement online assessments and help students learn “any time, any place, any way, any pace,” a goal of Gov. Rick Snyder. No school district will be awarded more than $2 million.
Yet even if most grants are for far smaller amounts, it’s unlikely that more than around 75 of the state’s roughly 550 school dist ricts and charter schools will get any money. That has school administrators worried.
“No one’s looking at $50 million and saying that’s a bad idea,” says Don Wotruba, deputy director of government relations for the Michigan Association of School Boards. “But all of the costs that go with that technology aren’t addressed, at least in a proper way.”
Snyder’s chief strategist, William Rustem, says the administration is aware that many districts need to make changes to prepare for online testing.
“I don’t know if the $50 million solves the problem. But I do know it gets us a long way down the road,” Rustem says. “It’s not as if the state is standing back and saying, `You take care of this.’”
Wendy Zdeb-Roper, a former Rochester High School principal who’s now executive director of the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals, says most school administrators support the idea of online testing, especially since they can get the results sooner than with paper tests and make adjustments more quickly to improve student learning. But they’re also wary of having to implement yet another state mandate at a time when per-pupil state funding remains tight.
Wotruba notes that it’s not just about buying more computers, but about having enough money to cover the costs of insuring them or replacing the ones that break, as well as the salaries of the technicians who keep the network and computers humming.
“Those are the people we laid off because we tried to keep our teachers” when funding got tight, Wotruba says.
National trend toward more testing
As part of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, Michigan is one of 31 states drafting tests that cover more subjects grade-to-grade than the current high school Michigan Merit Exam or the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) tests taken by elementary and middle school students.
School districts still will be able to use paper tests through the 2017-18 school year, if they can’t meet the deadline. But the pressure’s on to move to the online tests because they’ll allow individual students’ progress to be measured year to year, a key component of Snyder’s plan to eventually tie state funding and teacher evaluations to whether each student learns a year’s worth material each school year.
According to the Gongwer News Service, the consortium program would add math and reading tests for grades 8 through 11 to the tests already conducted from grades 3 through 7, and add the writing component to tests administered in grades 3 through 11. The state also is developing reading, math and writing assessments that could be used for students in kindergarten through grade 2, as well as assessments for science and social studies curriculum taught in grades 3 through 12.
Testifying in July to a bipartisan education reform group in the House of Representatives, the director of the Education Department’s Bureau of Assessment and Accountability, Joseph Martineau, said many districts don’t have the information technology structure in place to support moving all their students off the paper tests at one time.
Wotruba says he knows of many school districts that will have a difficult time getting all their students enough computer time to take the tests, even if districts are allowed to stretch the testing period over weeks or months. And having enough computers is just one part of the equation.
“I need the broadband width, I need the wireless speed for that many kids to take the test at once,” he said. “I think (school districts) are far from ready to move the vast majority of kids to online assessment.”
Rustem says the grants are intended to help school districts look for ways to forge partnerships with each other, their intermediate school districts or the state that will make it easier to upgrade their technology and administer the tests.
“Technology gives us a way to track not only individual progress) but … school progress,” Rustem says. “We just have to keep pushing, trying to get there, realizing there’s going to be challenges.”
Editor’s Note: Kathy Barks Hoffman is a contributor to Bridge magazine, an editorial partner of the Michigan Chronicle. Hoffman covered Michigan government and politics for more than two decades as a reporter for the Detroit News, the Lansing State Journal and the Associated Press, where she headed AP’s Lansing Bureau for nearly 17 years. She now works for the Public Affairs Practice of public relations firm Lambert, Edwards & Associates.
Last Updated on Friday, 28 December 2012 10:36
Category: Breaking News Written by The Grio
A new study from the Pew Research Center suggests that the 2012 presidential election marks the first time in history where African-Americans were voting at a higher rate than their white peers.
“Unlike other minority groups whose increasing electoral muscle has been driven mainly by population growth, blacks’ rising share of the vote in the past four presidential elections has been the result of rising turnout rates,” reports the study.
Although blacks make up 12 percent of the so-called “eligible electorate”, 13 percent of the ballots cast for president were African-American voters.
“Did the turnout rate of blacks exceed that of whites this year for the first time ever? For now, there’s circumstantial evidence but no conclusive proof,” the Pew report says. “And there’ll be no clear verdict until next spring, when the U.S. Census Bureau publishes findings from its biannual post-election survey on voter turnout.”
The study also acknowledges that “in all previous presidential elections for which there are reliable data, blacks had accounted for a smaller share of votes than eligible voters.”
Whether it was voter ID laws, the chance to re-elect the first African-American president or economic insecurity — one this is clear — black voters were motivated to return to the polls this November.
Last Updated on Friday, 28 December 2012 09:11
Category: Breaking News Written by The Huffington Post
From the Motor City to Mobile City? Maybe soon.
A new conference on designing applications for Apple's mobile operating system hopes to spearhead the growth of Detroit's burgeoning tech economy.
The first Detroit Mobile City iOS conference will offer tech newbies and sophisticated engineers alike the chance to polish their skills in programming and fine-tuning mobile applications. It will be held Saturday, February 2 at the Westin Book Cadillac in downtown Detroit.
The conference is hosted by Develop Detroit, a collective of software engineers and tech gurus who promise they can make any student a mobile developer in 90 days. Since launching in May, they've held courses in Detroit, Ann Arbor and Lansing.
Develop Detroit and Mobile City are both spearheaded by Mike Vichich, a 27-year-old former Accenture employee turned startup founder. He left his consultant work to launch his own mobile payments application, Glyph, in Detroit. The app helps users pick the right credit card to use based on where the user is shopping and what rewards programs they're enrolled in. Glyph is just one of a billion applications created so far for the iOS (Apple) and Android operating systems. Vichich told The Huffington Post that the conference will be an integral step in the formation of the Motor City's technology corridor.
"It's all about community," Vichich said. "This conference will make it easier for people to launch tech companies, because all of the ingredients for building a great product will be there: programmers, designers, and user experience professionals."
And these skills aren't just for startups. Bloomberg reports that open jobs for developers in Michigan are outpacing the number of graduates qualified to fill them. Rather than import engineers from Silicon Valley, groups like Develop Detroit are hoping to train Michiganders to do the work themselves.
Nir Eyal will deliver the keynote address at Detroit Mobile City. One of America's foremost innovators and tech consultants, Eyal has founded and sold two companies and lectured at Stanford's Graduate School of Business. He specializes in how human psychology, technology and business intersect -- a critical component for entrepreneurs who want to compete in the exploding industry of mobile applications.
"I hadn't seen much focus locally on the critical topic of user experience," Vichich said. "It's one thing to build an app, but it's a completely different thing to build an app that people want to use all the time. That's Nir's specialty and why I personally wanted to meet him. He was really excited to play a small part in Detroit's renaissance, and meet the startups we have in Detroit and Ann Arbor."
Four separate tracks will be available for participants: a curriculum introducing participants to iOS, tracks on iOS design and advanced programming and a separate branch dedicated to user engagement. The Huffington Post and Mobile City together will present a panel discussion for all participants at lunch, "Building A Vibrant Detroit Tech Community." The conference is presented in part by Quicken Loans and Detroit Venture Partners.
Creating those connections and cultivating a homegrown tech industry in Detroit is Vichich's ultimate goal, even beyond training the next generation of designers and tech creators from the Mitten State.
"It's not a talking head conference -- people will come away with material skills learned," Vichich said. "It's also for anyone interested in tech. Beginner or expert. Designer, developer, or business person. People will come to learn and they'll come to meet other like-minded people."
The first annual Mobile City iOS conference takes place Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013 at the Westin Book Cadillac in downtown Detroit. Tickets are $149 for the all-day conference and $99 for students and early registrations before Jan. 7. Click here to register for Detroit Mobile City.
Last Updated on Friday, 28 December 2012 09:04
Category: Breaking News Written by Dana Bash and Tom Cohen, CNN
Washington (CNN) -- President Barack Obama and congressional leaders will discuss the looming fiscal cliff impasse Friday at the White House, aiming for a last-minute deal to stave off automatic tax increases and spending cuts.
The 3 p.m. meeting -- which will include Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, House Speaker John Boeher, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell -- will come days before the deadline to reach a deal, and after another day of Republicans and Democrats blaming each other for the stalemate.
White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage confirmed the meeting, but did not elaborate. Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck and McConnell spokesman Don Stewart both tried to put the onus on their rival political party -- in the former case urging the Democratic-led Senate to pass a bill approved by the GOP majority in the House, and in the latter asking for a detailed proposal from Obama.
Earlier Thursday, McConnell said his side won't "write a blank check for anything Senate Democrats put forward just because we find ourselves at the edge of the cliff."
While a Senate Democratic leadership member said such details would be forthcoming, two White House officials said Obama will not send a fiscal cliff measure to Congress.
Reid, the Nevada Democrat, argued that Republicans undermined a potentially major agreement over the past two years by refusing to compromise on their opposition to higher tax rates for the wealthy. Hours before Friday's meeting was announced, he was doubtful there would be a deal by January 1.
"I don't know, time-wise, how it can happen now," Reid said.
Democrats, GOP challenge each other to act first
The Consumer Confidence Index sank Thursday amid growing fears the sides won't come together. If they don't, economists have warned it could cause another recession.
At the least, hopes for an imminent so-called grand bargain that would address chronic federal deficits and debt appeared dashed right now, leaving it to the White House and legislators to work out a less ambitious agreement.
The principal dispute continues to be over taxes, specifically the demand by Obama and Democrats to extend most of the tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush while allowing higher rates of the 1990s to return on top income brackets.
Obama campaigned for re-election on keeping the current lower tax rates on family income up to $250,000, which he argues would protect 98% of Americans and 97% of small businesses from rates that increase on income above that level.
Republicans oppose any kind of increase in tax rates, and Boehner suffered the political indignity last week of offering a compromise -- a $1 million threshold for the higher rates to kick in -- that his GOP colleagues refused to support because it raised taxes and had no chance of passing the Senate.
Last Friday, the president proposed the scaled-back agreement that included his call for extending tax cuts on households with incomes under $250,000, as well as an extension of unemployment insurance.
McConnell told Obama in a telephone conversation Wednesday that he must see details of a proposal before he can figure out how to proceed on a Senate vote.
However, a senior Democratic Senate source said Thursday that McConnell must first work things out with House Speaker John Boehner before Democrats divulge more.
Such squabbling has left many doubtful there will be a deal before the fiscal cliff takes effect. Reid criticized Boehner's insistence the Senate act on House measures, saying Democrats and Republicans have to agree on something together.
"We are in the same situation we've been in for a long time," Reid said. "We can't negotiate with ourselves."
Both sides play the 'blame game'
Reid said Boehner wants to wait until after the new House re-elects him as speaker early next month before proceeding with a compromise -- one that will need support from both Democrats and Republicans to pass.
Boehner is "more concerned about his speakership than putting the country on firm financial footing," Reid claimed.
In response, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said Reid should stop talking and instead take up legislation passed by the House to avert the fiscal cliff. This comes a day after Boehner's leadership team issued a statement saying the Senate must go first -- either by passing or amending the House-passed proposal -- and only then will they act, an assertion Buck repeated Thursday evening.
Reid and Democrats reject the GOP proposals, which would extend all tax cuts passed under former President George W. Bush and revamp the spending cuts of the fiscal cliff. They've called them insufficient, shifting too much deficit reduction burden on the middle class.
Instead, Reid called on Boehner to allow a vote on a Senate-passed measure to implement Obama's plan to extend tax cuts to the $250,000 threshold.
However, McConnell rejected that possibility Thursday, as he sought to focus the debate on revising House-passed measures.
One possibility is the fiscal cliff takes effect and taxes go up in January, then Congress steps in to bring tax rates back down for at least some people -- allowing them to say they're lowering taxes, even if taxes for some wealthy people are higher in 2013 than they were in 2012. But retiring Republican Rep. Steve LaTourette of Ohio calls that scenario little more than a political game.
"Nobody is willing to pull the trigger (because) everybody wants to play the blame game," LaTourette said. "This blame game is about to put us over the edge."
Polls show most back Obama
Obama and Democrats have leverage, based on the president's re-election last month and Democratic gains in the House and Senate in the new Congress. In addition, polls consistently show majority support for Obama's position on taxes.
The Gallup daily tracking poll released Wednesday showed 54% of respondents support Obama's handling of the fiscal cliff talks, compared with 26% who approve of Boehner's performance.
"We believe very strongly a reasonable package can get majorities in both (chambers)," a senior White House official said. "The only thing that would prevent it is if Sen. McConnell and Speaker Boehner don't cooperate."
Anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist has vowed to back primary challenges against Republicans who violate his widely signed pledge not to raise taxes. Even if a deal is reached, he predicts budget showdowns will continue -- every time the government needs more money to operate.
"There the Republicans have a lot of clout because they can say we'll let you run the government for the next month, but you've got to make these reforms," he said this week.
On Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told Congress the government would reach its borrowing limit at year's end, but could take steps to create what he called "headroom" for two months or so.
However, Geithner said uncertainty about the fiscal cliff and deficit negotiations make it hard to predict precisely how long government measures to address the situation will last.
Crisis two years in the making
The possibility of a fiscal cliff was set in motion over the past two years as a way to force action on mounting government debt.
Now, legislators risk looking politically cynical by seeking to weaken the measures enacted to try to force them to confront tough questions regarding deficit reduction, such as changes to government programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
The two sides seemingly had made progress early last week on forging a $2 trillion deficit reduction deal that included new revenue sought by Obama and spending cuts and entitlement changes desired by Boehner.
Obama's latest offer set $400,000 as the income threshold for a tax rate increase, up from his original plan of $250,000. It also had a new formula for the consumer price index -- called chained CPI -- that wraps in new assumptions on consumer habits in response to rising prices, such as seeking cheaper alternatives, and would result in smaller benefit increases.
Statistics supplied by opponents say the change would mean Social Security recipients would get $6,000 less in benefits over the first 15 years of chained CPI. Liberal groups have openly challenged the plan, calling it a betrayal of senior citizens who contributed all their lives for their benefits.
Boehner appeared to move on increased tax revenue, including higher rates on top income brackets and eliminating deductions and loopholes. But his inability to rally all House Republicans behind his plan last week raised questions about his role and what comes next.
Reid and other Senate Democrats say House Republicans must accept that an agreement will require support from legislators in both parties, rather than the GOP majority in the House pushing through a measure on its own.
Some House Republicans have said they would join Democrats and support the president's plan in hopes of moving past the volatile issue to focus on spending cuts and entitlement reforms they seek.
Last Updated on Friday, 28 December 2012 01:57
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