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December 29. 2012 10:35PM

NH reps still seek to skirt the 'fiscal cliff'

With just a few days left in their terms in Congress, outgoing U.S. Reps. Charles F. Bass and Frank Guinta said they will be in Washington to take part in potential votes aimed to keep the country from going over the so-called fiscal cliff.

"I will be there for the final vote, whatever that is," Bass said Saturday. "I have a responsibility to the voters to represent them until Thursday at noon. If that requires me being in Washington, I'm going to do it."

Bass will hand the reins of the 2nd Congressional District to U.S. Rep.-elect Ann McLane Kuster this week, while Guinta will be replaced by Carol Shea-Porter, the former 1st District representative whom he defeated in 2010 but lost to in 2012.

Both said their lame-duck status doesn't mean they can shirk the job of trying to ward off the automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that would take effect on New Year's Day.

The Senate has taken over the lead in coming up with a bill to avert the fiscal cliff.

"With taxes set to rise on every American - and many small-business owners - at the beginning of the year, the time to act is now, and I will continue to work toward a bipartisan solution that prevents us from going off the fiscal cliff," U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said in a statement.

Attempts to reach U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., were unsuccessful.

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, after months of negotiations with President Barack Obama failed to yield legislation, said he would introduce to the House whatever the Senate passes.

"I know they're trying to negotiate now," Guinta said. "I'm certainly keeping an open mind. I would like to avoid going over the fiscal cliff."

But don't hold your breath that something will happen before the New Year's holiday, Bass said.

"I think it's unlikely that the vote will occur on a federal holiday, and I think it's unlikely that the Senate will have a product by Monday," he said. "This was totally predictable and totally avoidable."

"The problem is staring us right in the face," Guinta said. "I don't understand why there is such a challenge."

Discussions indicate that Congress and Obama may pass only a stopgap measure in the next week to prevent tax hikes on the middle class, while allowing tax rates on wealthier Americans to increase, and to extend unemployment benefits.

Bass and Guinta each said such moves would do little to move the country forward and solve the country's deficit and debt problems.

"It's yet another baling wire- and-duct tape solution to a bigger problem," Bass said. "It's a panic situation where the least amount will be done."

Guinta said that, while he is "willing to look at" whatever the Senate produces, he believes raising tax rates on anyone is not the solution.

He said the potential of $70 billion in new revenue from increased tax rates on higher income thresholds would barely make a dent in annual deficits that top $1 trillion and that Obama and Democrats have yet to propose any significant spending reductions, particularly in entitlements.

"What the President wants is very short-sighted, very ideological and very political," Guinta said. "It doesn't even begin to solve the problem. When the President wants to come to the table with something serious to solve the problems, I'll listen. And I hope he does."

Guinta said he would prefer extending all existing tax rates, enacting "real" spending reductions and tax reform, and passing legislation to stave off another looming debt ceiling crisis.

Bass said Republicans may have to dangle the carrot of increased taxes to win the spending cuts and reform they want in non-discretionary entitlement programs such as Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. He said he would like to see a ratio of $4 in spending cuts for every $1 of new revenue enacted.

"That's the simplest formula for deficit reduction," he said. "But you have to put the nation ahead of partisan politics."

Bass said the failure of Congress and Obama to fix the fiscal cliff crisis is symptomatic of partisan entrenchment - Republicans not willing to budge on new revenues and Democrats not willing to budge on entitlement spending.

"There are fewer and fewer members of Congress who are willing to listen to different viewpoints," he said. "It isn't likely that it will change" in the coming session of Congress.

Bass said he and other moderates from both parties are being replaced by liberal Democrats and more conservative Republicans.

"It's not going to get better," he said. "I'm not frustrated. I'm disappointed."

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Tim Buckland may be reached at tbuckland@unionleader.com.


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