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Owens foresees more intense partisan battles for federal lawmakers

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WASHINGTON - An impending federal debt ceiling debate will likely lead to more partisan bickering and last-minute deals even in the wake of an intense battle over the so-called fiscal cliff.

“I think we are going to wind up in a similar situation,” U.S. Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said Wednesday.

The fiscal cliff compromise was struck late Tuesday, technically after the Jan. 1 deadline had passed.

Mr. Owens said the nation also reached its $16.4 trillion debt ceiling on Monday. He said he expects negotiations revolving around raising the debt ceiling to go hand-in-hand with debates about federal sequestration. Across-the-board cuts of 8 percent to 10 percent in funding for federal programs, including the military, were put off in Tuesday’s fiscal cliff compromise.

Tuesday’s deal saw Bush-era tax cuts expire on single people making more than $400,000 and households making more than $450,000, the expiration of a 2 percent payroll tax cut, a nine-month extension on the farm bill, a two-month delay on proposed federal spending cuts and a one-year reauthorization of the wind energy tax credit.

“I think that we fixed one leg of the stool,” Mr. Owens said. “We have two more legs to go.”

He said Congress needs to tackle spending cuts and the debt ceiling before the situation is stabilized.

In particular, Mr. Owens said, $175 billion to $200 billion could be saved by clearing inefficiencies out of federal programs in addition to the tax revenue generated by the fiscal cliff negotiations. He said between $75 billion and $150 billion alone could be saved if Defense Department inefficiencies were cleared away.

Mr. Owens said the Medicare program could save roughly $40 billion a year if the program were allowed to negotiate drug rates on its own.

“They are not things that cut programs or hurt beneficiaries,” he said. “You could wrap together a debt ceiling [compromise] with the avoidance of sequestration and effective spending cuts with a really minimal negative impact on places like Fort Drum, Medicare beneficiaries and the border.”

Mr. Owens said the new Congress, which takes over today, leans slightly more Democratic than the previous one. The House seats nine more Democrats following November’s election.

“The majority is narrowed,” Mr. Owens said.

He said he is hopeful that more Democrats will enable moderates to be more vocal in bringing the two sides together. Republicans have 233 members in the House compared to 200 Democrats.

That aside, Mr. Owens said it is going to be difficult to find common ground moving forward.

“My friends on the other side of the aisle failed to step up,” Mr. Owens said of the Tuesday’s negotiations.

Only 85 Republicans voted in favor of the compromise, with 151 voting against.

Mr. Owens said the Republicans also failed to propose any spending cuts.

“They do not want to own them,” he said.

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