WASHINGTON D.C. - First District Rep. Tim Walz is pushing every avenue he can find to create traction for retention of Bush-era middle class tax cuts. However, the ongoing "game of chicken" between Republican leaders and President Barack Obama over the looming "fiscal cliff" deadline has caused all remaining major legislative pieces to have limited traction.
Walz, a Democrat who was elected to his fourth term in November, waded into the forefront of the debate over the expiring tax cuts, which are separate from the debated tax cuts for top earners, by filing a discharge petition Tuesday in the U.S. House of Representatives. The petition allows the bill specifically dealing with the middle class tax cuts to be forced on the floor for a vote if it garners 218 supporting votes. The middle class tax cut includes tax breaks on the first $250,00 people earn and several additional items like child care tax credits and college affordability programs. If allowed to expire, taxes could increase on middle class families by up to $2,000.
Walz argues these tax cuts are supported by both sides and are guaranteed to pass, so it should at least be brought to a vote to get something accomplished.
"This does not have a tax increase. This prevents taxes from going up and stunting the economy," said Walz, "This is something we are definitely going to pass. Let's make sure this important piece of legislation gets to the floor. All we're asking is a chance to vote on it."
Walz said he came to the forefront of this push because he advocated for this approach for a long time. He has made several TV appearances on major news networks since submitting the petition in an attempt to create pressure for action. He chose the petition method because minority parties have limited-to-no-other options to bring a bill to the floor.
"We need to start focusing on what we all agree on. We're still going have the debate on things like the taxes on top earners. But, we can get done what we know will pass and do something good for the American people," said Walz.
Congress ended floor discussion work Wednesday to take off for a long weekend. Walz hopes his petition will generate interest and comment from constituents when lawmakers are in their home districts. He hopes it generates enough interest to come back and vote on the petition.
One criticism of Walz's petition is the suggestion that passing the generally agreed upon middle class tax cuts would leave the Republicans without leverage for their fight on tax rates for top earners. Because those tax cuts are set to expire, the Democrats would only need to prevent any legislation from passing to see them eliminated.
Walz rejects using something important like middle class tax cuts in "a game of chicken." He said the passage of the middle class tax cuts could still be part of a grand bargain, but didn't need the instability of being passed only at the same time as everything else.
"I'm pushing for a grand bargain just as hard as everybody else. There's just no reason to do it all at once, where it's much harder to pass. We can do this in pieces and get the same thing done without putting everything at risk."
On the topic of the Obama's push to end the Bush-era tax cuts on top earners and their tax rate, Walz believes a tax rate increase is already inevitable. He said the move is so difficult for Republicans that it is taking longer.
He also said this also obligates Democrats to be willing to make large, difficult spending cuts to guarantee a final "fiscal cliff" deal. He said this would even extend to possible cuts to entitlements.
A recent cost-saving proposal is raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67, thus saving approximately $100 billion over 10 years. Walz's preferred method for entitlement cost saving would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices similar to the Veterans Administration with potential savings more than double the amount of raising the eligibility age.
"The only question is if they will say it's not a tough enough cut. [Raising the eligibility age] may become important in the deal as a symbolic move to make," said Walz.
Meanwhile, the Farm Bill has been without any significant discussion since the Nov. 6 election. Walz has been a major voice in advocating for a vote on the Farm Bill. Before the election, a Farm Bill was passed in the U.S. Senate and in all the House committees. However, the bill has not yet been allowed to have a floor vote in the House.
"I think the version put forward in the House is very good. It cuts cost and ends things like direct payments." said Walz.
Farm Bill reductions might become a component of the "fiscal cliff" cost reductions, Walz said. However, he would be very wary of this approach not only for concerns that important components could be pulled out as bargaining chips but also for concerns it could get weighed down in the overall inaction on a "fiscal cliff" deal.
"We won these compromises and cuts over two years. I think we should pass it on so it gets done and farmers can know how to plan," said Walz.
Walz has introduced legislation that would allow veterans who were certified as EMTs or truck drivers during active service to be equally certified in the United States when they return from deployment. The proposal has been added to the Senate version of the Defense Authorization Act, but he is still pushing for its inclusion in the House version. He expects the defense bill to be very likely to pass before the end of the year.
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)