With the election far behind us, and Thanksgiving just past, it’s time for the lame duck session of the 112th Congress to finally get to work. The issue everyone has been talking about since President Obama was reelected is the fiscal cliff — the combination of tax increases and spending cuts due to take effect Jan. 2. As it stands now, come the New Year, taxes would go up for everyone and across-the-board budget cuts, or sequestration, would deeply cut nearly every discretionary spending program. Federal agencies that fund research would see at least an 8.2 percent cut to their current budgets. Should these cuts go into effect, the Congressional Budget Office forecasts the country will immediately fall back into recession.
To avert the fiscal cliff, Democrats and Republicans need to come to an agreement on taxes and spending that will reduce our national deficit and set the nation on a path to fiscal solvency. President Obama and the Democrats have called for a balanced approach to deficit reduction based on tax increases for those making more than $250,000 per year and cuts in governmental spending. Republicans, who were staunchly opposed to any tax increases before the election, have signaled that they are willing to discuss additional tax revenues, in addition to significant spending cuts, in order to avert the fiscal cliff.
But these are the public statements made by each side involved and not necessarily a good barometer of where the negotiations stand. However, some side acts shed light on the true progress of the fiscal-cliff talks. U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., have put together a piece of legislation that would act as an emergency backup plan should fiscal-cliff negotiations fail. It is not clear what is in this bill, but it is a sign that legislators are preparing for a potentially rancorous negotiation. As a sign these preparations may be necessary, Congressional staff-level talks, where the fine details of any bill that would avert the fiscal cliff would be crafted, are moving slowly. The appropriations committees are reportedly working toward an omnibus spending bill to fund the government for fiscal 2013. This may signal optimism that the fiscal-cliff negotiations will be resolved in enough time to consider these spending bills during the lame duck session. Then again, this might be wasted effort seeing as how the government is already funded by a continuing resolution until the end of March.
Altogether, it looks as though both political parties are willing to work together to arrive at a compromise to avert the fiscal cliff, but little, if any, progress has been made on hammering out the details of such a deal. Congress comes back to work this week, but many of its efforts will be devoted to procedural issues such as orientation of the incoming class of freshman legislators. Expect the true negotiations and deal-making to get under way on Dec. 3. Until then, let your representatives and senators know what you think about fiscal cliff. Email Ben Corb and peruse our Advocacy Toolkit to find out how you can make a difference. And stay tuned for the ASBMB sign-on letter regarding the fiscal cliff to be released later this week!