Fast facts on the agreement
• Extends middle-class tax cuts to all individuals who earn less than $400,000 per year and to families who make less than $450,000. It includes an expanded child tax credit and marriage penalty relief.
• Extends emergency unemployment-insurance benefits for 2 million people.
• Postpones the sequester for two months, paid for with $1 of revenue for every $1 of spending, balanced between defense and domestic programs.
Source: The White House Press Office
Cliff averted, but you’ll still see some increase
• Employees still will be taxed at a higher rate as a 2 percent temporary cut in the Social Security payroll tax expired with the end of 2012. Neither side made a significant effort to extend it.
Both chambers of Congress pulled out a deal this week that prevents America from going over the fiscal cliff of tax hikes and spending cuts that experts say would have chilled the economy and prompted an extended recession — but there’s still much work ahead.
Georgia delegates in the House and Senate will have a short time to agree on federal expenditures before another crunch.
The Associated Press reports that the treasury is expected to need an expansion in borrowing authority by early spring, and funding authority for most government programs is set to expire in late March — leaving the door open to still more wrangling.
The Senate passed H.R.8, or the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, during Tuesday’s early morning hours with an 89-8 vote. Republican Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson voted in support of the measure.
Chambliss in 2012 visited several military installations throughout the state and warned that automatic spending cuts known as sequestration would harm recovering economies in regions like Hinesville’s. Wednesday, he issued a statement on his vote.
“This deal is far from what this country needs, but I cannot, in good conscience, allow taxes to be raised on all Americans and send our economy into turmoil,” Chambliss said. “While I am pleased that most Americans have been saved from an increase in taxes, I won’t be satisfied that the Senate has finished its work on the fiscal cliff until significant spending cuts on discretionary and entitlement spending have occurred.”
Chambliss said he looks forward to negotiating “substantial, meaningful” spending cuts, but he did not address the uncertainty that still faces military installations.
That uncertainty also applies to the Liberty County Board of Education, which receives federal impact aid that essentially acts as property taxes for students who reside on Fort Stewart.
Isakson issued a similar sentiment, defending certain provisions of the bill but adding that there still is work ahead.
The House passed its version of the legislation late Tuesday night with a bipartisan 257-167 vote. But Georgia’s Republican representatives broke ranks with Senate Republicans and opposed the bill.
U.S. Rep Jack Kingston, R-Savannah, voted no. He’s appeared on several TV news spots in recent weeks discussing the economic fiasco.
During a Monday interview with MSNBC, Kingston predicted that a Senate measure would galvanize enough support in the House to pass even if a majority of Republicans did not support it.
“I think most people are — at least 30 to 50 — will say, ‘Well, you know what, let’s take what we can get and live to fight another day.’ Therefore, you’ll get a bill passed,” Kingston said.
Late Wednesday, Kingston’s office issued a statement opposing the measure.
“Delaying the spending cuts — the ones already on in August 2011 — is especially worrisome. Does anyone really believe attitudes toward less spending will be any different in March than they are today? The fiscal-cliff deadline was created in August 2011, and nothing happened in the Senate until last week. If we did not get religion in 16 months, I doubt we’ll get it in two,” Kingston said.
Augusta Democrat John Barrow also voted no.
Georgia Democratic Party Chairman Mike Berlon said the state party is commenting with caution on the legislation until the text has been read and analyzed.
“From our perspective, it was great that we were able to reach an agreement at least at this point because it stops all the taxes from going up … this is really just one step in a bigger effort to strengthen the economy,” he said.
And while both parties brace for an extended period of negotiations on government spending, Berlon is optimistic that things will work out.
He said he is hopeful that the new Congress will make a more concerted effort to ensure that any backup measures, like the fiscal cliff combination passed in the summer of 2011, would be more considerate of long-term ramifications.
“The last thing we can afford to do at this point is make a serious mistake in the economy,” he said, adding that projections indicated the tax hikes would have hit families anywhere between $200 and $400 per month, depending on how the analysis is read.
He also predicted that if a problem arises in the negotiations, it likely will stem from GOP divisions, as Democrats mostly have been unified, but Republicans have been trying to appeal to both mainstream conservatives and Tea Party members.
When asked about Chambliss’ warnings that the sequester would do harm to military communities such as Fort Stewart, Berlon said fears are responsible in local economies that are military-driven — but added that Georgia’s installations are too important for significant changes.
“The government has got a couple of responsibilities. I believe that the military will be the first priority; our government is always going to make sure that we take care of our soldiers …,” he said. “Historically, when you look at these kinds of crises over the years, it always works out.”