By Jennifer Peltz and Rachel Cohen
The Associated Press
By Francis Scarcella
The Daily Item
SUNBURY — Republican congressmen representing the Valley on Friday said they are willing to work with newly re-elected Democratic President Barack Obama to prevent a looming fiscal crisis that could begin as early as Jan. 1.
U.S. Reps. Lou Barletta, R-11, of Hazleton, and Tom Marino, R-10, of Cogan Station, are open to negotiations that will address expiring tax cuts approved under President George W. Bush and pending spending cuts — the result of the failure of last November’s bipartisan “Super Committee” to reach a debt-reduction agreement.
Obama’s short but strong speech Friday made it very clear to the American public that he will reject any approach to the possible crisis that does not involve a tax increase on Americans earning more than $250,000 a year.
Barletta said he listened to Obama speak and he at least agrees on working together.
“We have to find common ground,” Barletta said Friday. “We need to expect both sides to work together.”
Marino agreed, but remains skeptical.
“I have heard this before,” Marino said. “We asked him for a year and a half to sit down with us. I am willing and agree we need to do what is best for the American people and if he truly wants to sit down and get the deficit down and reduce Washington, then I am all for it. I’d rather leave the table with a half of loaf of bread then nothing. We are on a cliff and we are hanging on by a pinky and we can’t continue on like this.”
Obama said he is committed to solving fiscal challenges.
“But I refuse to accept any approach that isn’t balanced,” he said. “I am not going to ask students and seniors and middle-class families to pay down the entire deficit while people like me, who are making over $250,00 a year, aren’t asked to pay a dime more in taxes. I’m not going to do that.”
Obama said he will be meeting with House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, and that he was pleased Boehner agreed that tax revenue has to be a part of reducing the deficit.
“I look forward to hearing his ideas,” Obama said during his speech.
Obama said he wanted to make it clear to Americans that if Congress fails to reach an agreement on an overall deficit reduction package by Dec. 31, everybody’s taxes will automatically increase Jan. 1.
“Everybody’s,” he said. “Including the 98 percent of Americans who make less than $250,000 a year. And that makes no sense. It would be bad for the economy and would hit families that are already struggling to make ends meet.”
Obama said he knows the American people will understand the next few months will be difficult.
“We are going to have differences and disagreements in the months to come and they (Americans) said it loud and clear they won’t tolerate dysfunction,” he said. “They won’t tolerate politicians who view compromise as a dirty word. The American people want action.”
The Bush-era tax cuts are set to expire Dec. 31. The next day would be when $1.2 trillion worth of budget cuts, which would affect domestic programs and the Pentagon, begin to take effect unless Congress can reach a deal to offset them. On the same day, a payroll tax cut will expire, as will a deferment of payment cuts to Medicare physicians.
According to published reports and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, inaction on the fiscal cliff could have devastating consequences to the nation’s fragile growth: Its analysts warn that a prolonged deadlock could hike the unemployment rate back up to 9.1 percent by next fall, and that preventing the defense cuts would alone save 40,000 jobs. Meanwhile, the White House lists more than 1,200 government programs that would be subject to cuts if the sequester goes into effect, in which case the number of U.S. food inspectors will go down, FEMA will be subject to cuts, and the FAA’s budget will shrink.
n Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Associated Press contributed to this report.