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Thursday, January 3, 2013

N.H. congressmen take different sides on fiscal cliff: Ayotte, Shaheen, Bass on board, Guinta breaks off

The “fiscal cliff” deal, reached this week in Washington, D.C., may have quieted debate for the moment. But looking forward, it could be a prelude of the battle to come, according to lawmakers and analysts across the state.

The controversial compromise, finalized Tuesday after weeks of debate, helped the nation avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, holding off a series of automatic spending cuts and tax hikes threatening American taxpayers and businesses. ...

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The “fiscal cliff” deal, reached this week in Washington, D.C., may have quieted debate for the moment. But looking forward, it could be a prelude of the battle to come, according to lawmakers and analysts across the state.

The controversial compromise, finalized Tuesday after weeks of debate, helped the nation avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, holding off a series of automatic spending cuts and tax hikes threatening American taxpayers and businesses.

But in its wake, the deal left a series of unanswered questions by merely postponing the sequestration cuts threatening the military and other domestic programs and failing to address the rising national debt and federal spending issues, which will return over the coming months, analysts and lawmakers said this week.

“This is an accomplishment. ... It’s a step forward, but it’s just part of a
discussion we need to have about the larger issues,” outgoing U.S. Rep. Charles Bass, a Peterborough Republican, said Wednesday, hours after he voted in favor of the debt deal.

“This is a fairly narrow thing in comparison to the bigger issues we’re facing,” added Dean Spiliotes, a political analyst and professor of political science at Southern New Hampshire University. “They decided to wait and have the real fight another day. ... I think the next battle could be even bigger.”

In one of his last acts in Congress, Bass, who is set to give up his House seat Thursday, joined two of this three congressional colleagues this week in supporting the fiscal cliff deal.

In the Senate, both New Hampshire senators, Republican Kelly Ayotte and Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, voted Monday in favor of the compromise, which extended unemployment insurance and raised taxes on those earning more than $400,000 a year, among other actions.

“While the president was insistent on raising taxes, I voted to spare as many Americans as possible from getting hit by tax increases,” Ayotte, of Nashua, said Wednesday in a written statement.

“I am pleased that we were able to pass legislation to protect our economy and the middle class from tax increases and automatic spending cuts,” Shaheen, of Madbury, added in a statement. “However, more needs to be done to address our debt and deficits.”

Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, Bass and his GOP colleague Frank Guinta parted ways on the vote.

Bass voted along with 256 other congressmen and women in favor of the bill, saying it saves taxpayers from financial hurt.

“Our country does not need to go through the kind of pain and suffering that would have occurred if we did nothing,” he said Wednesday.

But Guinta disagreed, citing the bill’s price tag, as well as the absence of any true spending cuts, among other objections.

“We simply cannot afford to continue to ignore the need to address out-of-control government spending and deal with our insurmountable debt and deficits,” Guinta, of Manchester, said Wednesday in a written statement.

Looking forward, these issues will surface again in the weeks and months to come, lawmakers said. White House officials will soon begin to shape their fiscal year 2014 budget proposal, and, by the end of February, the 113th Congress, including New Hampshire’s new Democratic congresswomen Ann McLane Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter, is expected to renew the heated debate over federal spending and entitlement programs as it considers raising the federal debt ceiling.

Neither Kuster nor Shea-Porter was available Wednesday for comment. But Bass predicted that House Republicans could make federal spending cuts a condition of any debt ceiling deal.

“If we don’t (do something), I think America will be in grave economic condition in the not-too-distant future,” he said.

But service providers fear that could mean further cuts to Medicare, Social Security or other federal “entitlement” programs.

“This war about spending and cutting is going to continue raging, and we expect Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid to continue to be at risk during that time,” said Terry Lochhead, a field organizer for the New England branch of the Alliance for Retired Americans, an advocacy group for the elderly. “We have to keep watching what happens.”

Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or jberry@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Berry on Twitter (Telegraph_JakeB).