The election earthquake on November 2 should have gotten the attention of the leadership of the party that was on the losing end that night. All available evidence indicates that hasn’t happened.
Congress now finds itself in a lame duck session that will span approximately three weeks. It faces an impossible array of legislation to be considered during that time frame, most of which was punted into the lame duck because the congressional leadership didn’t want to advance certain bills before the election – entirely for political reasons.
We are now 2½ months into the current fiscal year and not one appropriations bill has been enacted – not one. That is unforgiveable. With less than a month left in the calendar year, neither the taxpayers who pay the taxes nor the businesses who deduct them know what the personal income tax rates are going to be on January 1. That is incorrigible and indefensible.
If the alternative minimum tax patch is not enacted before the end of the year, 21 million taxpayers will be hit with a huge tax increase regardless of whether the Bush tax cuts are extended for everyone or no one. If the current capital gains tax rate of 15 percent is not extended immediately, the prospect of having the rate go up to 20 percent on January 1 could well result in a sell-off of equities which will be another huge blow to the economy.
If there was one clear message from the November 2 elections, it is that the voters wanted Congress to focus on jobs, the economy, debt, and excessive spending. So what has Congress been working on? Outside of naming a few federal buildings, the effort has been directed toward a food safety bill (that was flawed and had to be re-enacted); the DREAM Act (designed to grease the skids for some illegal aliens to achieve citizenship); a nuclear arms control treaty that isn’t time critical; and the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal that the Democratic leadership in Congress didn’t bring up for the last 23 months but now says is imperative to vote on.
With the unemployment rate now up to 9.8 percent and uncertainty regarding critical tax issues that can further damage the economy, one would think the members of Congress could put first things first – but that isn’t happening.
The one attempt to address the Bush tax cut extension issue was just another instance of game playing. The House rushed through an extension of the Bush tax cuts only for middle-class taxpayers on November 2. It was an empty gesture because the leadership knows the bill won’t make it out of the Senate. But it did allow the Democrats to posture for the far-left wing of their base. The Senate Democratic leadership will roll out that same play on the Senate side before realistically addressing the issue.
Our economy is in bad shape. Passing taxes on anyone – in any form – right now is going to make it worse. The voters want Congress to focus on the economy. Too many in Congress want to play games instead. If this nonsense continues, more jobs will be lost, more businesses will close, and the voters will be even angrier in 2012.
You would think that the popinjays on the Potomac could understand that.
(Dan Juneau is president of the Louisiana Association of Business & Industry.)