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Regional lawmakers discuss 'fiscal cliff' deal

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren wants cuts in spending to be a part of any deal that comes out of the “fiscal cliff” negotiations between the White House and congressional leaders.

An agreement that emerged Monday between the White House and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell would raise taxes by about $600 billion over 10 years. The plan also did not address how spending cuts to the Pentagon and numerous domestic agencies would be averted.

While the deadline to prevent tax increases and spending cuts was technically midnight, passage of legislation by the time a new Congress takes office at noon Thursday – the likely timetable – would eliminate or minimize any inconvenience for taxpayers.

Economists in and out of government have warned that a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts could trigger a new recession, and the White House and Congress have spent the seven seeks since the Nov. 6 elections struggling for a compromise to protect the economy.

Hultgren, a freshman Congressman who won re-election in November in the 14th District, said he found the nature of the negotiations – behind closed doors – to be frustrating. He shared his views Monday afternoon in a phone interview with the Daily Chronicle.

“My fear is that so much focus has been put into increasing taxes and not what got us into this situation,” said Hultgren, R-Winfield. “How do we stop spending money we don’t have – I don’t think that’s happening in those discussions.”

While there is a chance that Congress will meet the midnight deadline, Hultgren had said he’s prepared to cast votes either late Monday or sometime today. His spokeswoman Laura Finch said Monday afternoon that House leadership asked members to stay close to the Capitol tonight.

“If the Senate passes something tonight, the House will be here to address it in one way or another,” Finch said.

With markets closed because of the New Year’s holiday, that gives Congress a little breathing room, Hultgren said.

U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Manteno, of Illinois’ 11th District, said it’s time for the Senate and White House to act on the impending fiscal cliff.

“The House has acted time after time after time – well before the Jan. 1 deadline – to offer a balanced approach that stops the defense ‘sequester’ and tax hikes on all Americans,” Kinzinger said Monday afternoon.

Under the tentative agreement discussed Monday, the Bush-era tax cuts would be extended to individuals and couples earning up to $400,000 and $450,000 a year. People earning more than that would be taxed at 39.6 percent, not 35 percent.

Hultgren, who represents a portion of DeKalb County, said he is not a fan of tax increases, but added that he would approach any plan with an open mind.

“I’ll look at it,” Hultgren said. “I am convinced that our problems are not because we’re under-taxed. Our problem is that we spend too much. Both our parties have been spending too much for far too long.”

That said, Hultgren said he would not want to see planned spending cuts totaling $109 billion go through. He described this as being a “meat ax approach” and said there are much more effective ways to cut spending.

Like his congressional counterparts, state Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, said he also thought the spending being done in Washington was unsustainable. He hoped for a permanent solution, because a temporary one would just deepen the cliff.

“[The deal] doesn’t solve the problem,” Syverson said. “It doesn’t address Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. That’s the frustrating thing. It raises very little revenue when you look at the total budget.”

Syverson compared the fiscal cliff with Illinois’ unfunded pension liability, which is reportedly approaching $100 billion and increasing by $17 million a day. The longer it takes to solve the problem, the harder the fall will be, Syverson said.

“Every time we push it off, it becomes more painful and painful,” Syverson said.

Both Hultgren and Kinzinger said they are hoping for a resolution.

“I’m hopeful that we can come to a conclusion that will avert another recession, but it’s unclear at this time whether that is possible,” Kinzinger said.

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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