Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, is cautiously optimistic that the expected lame duck session of Congress will produce the legislative action that seems impossible before the election. And he thinks that his side will have the upper hand in the lame duck as Republicans will be forced to reconcile their big deficit talk with their infatuation with bigger tax cuts.
Speaking to reporters this morning, Van Hollen noted that if all current laws are allowed to go into effect—if the Bush tax cuts expire, for example—it would automatically mean around a $5 trillion tax increase over 10 years. "It takes an act of Congress to extend them all," he noted. "There then is an opportunity for a negotiation where revenues are part of a deficit reduction plan ... I hope our Republican colleagues would agree that $2 trillion in revenue is better than $5 trillion."
It's an interesting dynamic because on the one hand the election pretty well paralyzes the Congress (neither side wanting to give the other a victory), but on the other there's a whole lot of, ahem, stuff that is going to hit the proverbial fan at the end of the year: the $5 trillion in tax hikes, the budget sequester—which no one likes—goes into effect. Oh, and at some point we'll hit the debt ceiling again. At the same time, while Republicans constantly strike a pose of preening virtue on the deficit, it always takes a back seat to their tax cut fetish.
Van Hollen added, "Now let me be clear. I'm not predicting that all of that is going to be resolved during the lame duck session. What I'm suggesting is that in the months after the election those action-forcing events could help bring the parties together. My hope would be that we would then reach a long-term solution to this."
He blames Republican obstinacy over raising tax revenue for the various standoffs, but indicated that the looming deadlines would give the Democrats a negotiating advantage.
Time will tell.