WASHINGTON, July 8 (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers signaled on Sunday a worsening deadlock in Congress over how to tackle critical fiscal deadlines looming at year's end, including deciding whether to extend tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
A scenario known by economists as the "fiscal cliff" could unfold at the end of the year. Historically low tax rates first enacted under Republican former President George W. Bush in 2001 and 2003 are set to expire at the end of the year if Congress fails to act, as are jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed and a temporary payroll tax cut.
In addition, $1.2 trillion in across-the-board reductions in spending on federal programs would begin to phase in as a result of Congress' failure late last year to find a comprehensive deal to cut the budget deficit.
The United States also is expected to hit the $16.4 trillion statutory limit on its debt sometime between the Nov. 6 U.S. election and the end of the year. If Congress fails to raise it, it would lead to a U.S. default.
Robert Gibbs, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama's re-election campaign, said the president was "100 percent committed" to allowing the Bush-era tax cuts for Americans making $250,000 and above to expire at the end of the year while keeping in place tax cuts for middle-income people.
"We should protect the tax cuts for the middle class and we should let tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires expire," Gibbs told CNN's "State of the Union," adding that wealthy Americans should "begin to pay their fair share."
Republicans argued against allowing any of the Bush-era tax cuts to disappear.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, also speaking on "State of the Union," said, "You know, what we ought to be doing is extend the current tax rates for another year with a hard requirement to get through comprehensive tax reform one more time."
Republicans control the House of Representatives and Obama's fellow Democrats control the Senate. The deadlock over the fiscal path forward comes months before Obama seeks re-election against Republican challenger Mitt Romney in November.
Representative Tom Price, a member of the House Republican leadership, said the House would pass Republican legislation before the end of July to keep tax rates at current levels for another year - preserving the Bush-era cuts.
Price said on the "Fox News Sunday" program that Romney supports that move "because he believes that will stimulate the economy and provide certainty out there in the job market."
Representative Xavier Becerra, a member of the House Democratic leadership, said Democrats would not support any measure that did not address the nation's fiscal challenges on a long-term basis.
"Those are bills to nowhere," Becerra said, referring to the House Republicans' legislation to extend the Bush tax cuts. "Tom knows it won't become law. We need to work together to come up with a real proposal that can pass both houses and get signed by the president."
"It's time for us to do something, rather than work against each other," Becerra said on "Fox News Sunday." (Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Will Dunham)
In this past weekend's health care debate, Arizona Republican John Shadegg bravely opened a new frontier by using a live baby as a visual aid to complain about health care reform. The infant, Maddie, was introduced as Shadegg's grand-daughter, which Shadegg quickly corrected, saying, "I wish this was my granddaughter." I wish most Congresspersons demonstrated Maddie's level of cognitive development, but no!
Florida Democrat Alan Grayson made headlines when he took to the well of the House of Representatives to warn that the GOP health care plan was for all of the nation's uninsured to DIE QUICKLY! But not so quick that you miss all of the manufactured suspense as Grayson flipped through his poster boards.
Iowa Republican Tom Latham hates him some cap and trade. So much that he decided to box up a hard hat with the words "American Jobs" written on it and send it to China, as a gift. How thoughtful! And all we've gotten in return is a mess of poisonous toys.
Illinois Republican Peter Roskam took a look at the health care bill and saw handcuffs. And "not figurative handcuffs," Roskam said, "actual criminal penalties." So, you do mean figurative handcuffs? Anyway, it's a good thing David Vitter sits in the U.S. Senate, because he would have probably been a little inappropriately interested in this presentation.
Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann made the acquaintance of some hula dancing Teabaggers from Hawaii, and they brought her a lei, which Bachmann herself could obtain at the airport in Hawaii, were it not for the fact that she believes planes cannot fly over water without the use of witchcraft. Anyway, she told Congress, "I’m reminded that the one who created this lei also created our freedom. Are we so insensible to the high cost our forebearers paid to purchase our freedom?" So, the Hawaiian Bureau of Tourism created our freedom? I guess this is not supposed to make much sense.
CLASSIC CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-Iowa) here, as the Iowan mixed all the metaphors he had at his disposal to inveigh against health care reform: Sir Lancelot! Dragons! Painful weapons! Golden egg-laying geese! The whole thing was like having a Pear Of Anguish inserted into your brain. Unless, of course, you were Maddie -- John Shadegg's not-granddaughter -- who probably likes the pretty pictures!
More from Charles Grassley: "We should not legislate in a hasty manner and place ourselves in an infinite loop," says Grassley, apparently drawing the wrong lesson from Bill Murray's GROUNDHOG DAY, in which said "infinite loop" allowed Bill Murray's character the chance to experience personal growth, so that he was no longer the sort of preening dick who'd waste the time of serious people with comparisons to movies he saw one night on Comedy Central.
Utah Republican Orrin Hatch LOVES HIM some children's tales, too, it seems. Thankfully, he kept his stories straight, citing Robin Hood as a way of discussing Obama's infernal plan to redistribute wealth in America. It's not clear that Hatch quite understands who would be the Sheriff of Nottingham in this metaphor. But look, just be thankful Hatch didn't burst into an impromptu performance of Bryan Adams's "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You." Hatch, we remind you, fancies himself to be quite the singer.
New Jersey Democrat Frank Lautenberg compared then Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's threat to eliminate the Senate filibuster to Star Wars' Emperor Palpatine's efforts to destroy galactic freedom, murder the Jedi and crush "terrorism" with the Death Star. Flash forward to today, and suddenly the elimination of the Senate filibuster doesn't seem like such a bad idea, eh, Senate Democrats?
When it comes to Congressional visual aids, the master of the form is Ohio Republican George Voinovich, who was the Jean-Michel Basquiat of poster-board-based metaphorical imagery. Check out all that elaborate work! The lovingly rendered "Emperor's New Clothes," the detailed Wheel of Fortune, the G4 Channel courting Pac Man nonsense...we're going to miss the senator when he retires. But you know who won't miss him? The poor interns who had to build this crap.