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“Fiscal slope” would hit middle class, north country hard

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WASHINGTON - With automatic tax hikes and spending cuts due with the New Year, Congressional leaders have been tasked by President Barack H. Obama with finding a compromise or bringing a stop-gap measure up for a vote.

Dubbed the “fiscal cliff,” Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said he believes, “If we go off the cliff and it is sustained, the pain would be felt by the middle class.”

With the House of Representatives due back Sunday evening, that leaves slightly more than one day for a compromise to be reached and passed by the Democratic Senate and Republican House.

“It’s unlikely that we get a big deal,” said Mr. Owens, who believes this fight will continue over the next several months.

The president met with Congressional leaders on Friday but was unable to reach a compromise. Republicans have refused to support any compromise that includes tax increases.

Mr. Obama said, in the event Congress is unable to reach consensus, it should vote to continue tax cuts for the middle class and extend unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless while working towards a larger deal, according to the Associated Press.

Mr. Owens said the impact in the north country would be substantial if nothing is done.

Although he prefers to call the series of tax hikes and spending cuts a “slope” as opposed to a cliff – because the impact would be felt gradually over the course of the next several months – he believes it would be crippling to the regional economy.

“If we start sliding down the slope… you would see a 7 to 8 percent decline in every line item at Fort Drum including personnel,” he said, adding that “furloughs and layoffs” would certainly follow.

“You would see the same thing for the Border Patrol and at school districts,” Mr. Owens said.

Payroll and capital gains taxes would also increase if Congress does not act by the first, potentially costing thousands of dollars for middle class households.

“The people that will be most inversely affected will be the middle class on down,” Mr. Owens said.

“What we really need are more moderates to step forward on the Republican side of the aisle,” Mr. Owens said. “That would allow us to force both sides to come to the middle.”

According to Mr. Owens, the conversations being had about the fiscal slope are being led by the extremes. Pointing to the failed “Plan B” vote in the House of Representatives called by Speaker John A. Boehner, Mr. Owens said this is a crisis of leadership.

Plan B would have increased taxes on those making more than $1 million and, despite being brought forward by the Republican Mr. Boehner, failed to pass the House last week.

“The Plan B vote clearly was chaos on the Republican side,” Mr. Owens said. “What that tells you is that the extremes are controlling the caucus which means you can’t bring a moderate position to the floor.”

Speaking to Mr. Boehner, Mr. Owens said, “Reach across the aisle to Democrats.”

Until a deal is reached, Mr. Owens said, the president and the Congressional leadership “should stay in the room,” working on the problem.

“It’s been a series of irresponsible acts by the leadership that’s got us to where we are,” he added.

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