By Patrick B. McGuigan | CapitolBeatOK
OKLAHOMA CITY — U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., characterizes the present battle between congressional Republicans and the White House as a “five-act drama.”
“The way I look at this is that we are in a five-part struggle, a five-act drama if you will,” Cole told CapitolBeatOK. “The fiscal cliff was the first act. Sequestration, within just days, is Act II.”
Cole, who has since 2003 represented the Fourth District (the southwest one-fourth of the Sooner State), described the atmosphere in the nation’s capital city as “very difficult, as challenged as I’ve ever seen it.”
“What dominates everything right now is that we have run four $1 trillion budget deficits in a row,” he said. “That’s astonishing. The president still says we don’t have a spending problem, but a revenue problem.
Cole said the outcome of Act I — the fiscal cliff — was “not bad,” with the exception of increased payroll taxes.
“Even so, we preserved 85 percent of the Bush-era tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people. We kept the capital gains and dividends taxation linked and capped at 20 percent, also a big deal. The estate tax stayed in check and we got rid of the alternative minimum tax. All good. We did better at the end of that than almost any of us could have expected,” he concluded.
“Still, the president got $680 billion in new revenue over a 10-year period. He got some revenue increase but we did not get budget cuts.”
Act II — the March 1 automatic-spending cuts called the sequester — is looking less hopeful.
“It is not satisfactory, but it is $100 billion a year in real cuts. Those cuts are not distributed right, but they are cuts. The president looks at this differently than we do,” Cole said. “Republicans are willing to negotiate a different approach to the sequester. … The president, however, is unwilling to negotiate. He wants revenue increases but no spending cuts. That’s not likely to happen.”
Still ahead is Act III, the battle of the continuing resolutions — Congress’ ability to continue funding by joint agreement while arguments continue. “That will come soon after we grapple, one way or the other, with sequestration,” Cole said.
And, what’s the timing for that part of the policy play?
“All spending authority for the government runs out in late March. We have been in a tie-game situation for the last few years in Washington. Unfortunately, the American people did not break that tie in the presidential election.
“Then, Act IV comes in mid-April, when both the House and the Senate will have to produce a budget. We have consistently passed budgets in the House. In the House, this time we are again on track and might even do the budget early. We have also pushed the idea of ‘no budget, no pay.’ We’ll see how the Senate responds. This year we have a commitment, and that is for House Republicans to produce a federal budget that actually balances within a decade.”
Both Cole and U.S. Rep. James Lankford, also an Oklahoma Republican, serve on the House Budget Committee, and promise to unveil a realistic and “balanceable” budget.
“Finally will come Act V, the debt ceiling,” Cole continued. “There is never absolute certainty on when the debt ceiling must be resolved, no precise timing. Look for this to come to a peak sometime between late May and the first of August.”
A pragmatist willing to maneuver in order to fashion a supportable compromise, Cole is nevertheless pessimistic about prospects for a deal: “A grand bargain is going to be tough.”
Cole said, “The president is saying he will make no additional concessions on spending. Speaker John Boehner is a smart man, and a classic legislator. His idea, given the situation we are in, is that for the debt ceiling to be looked at there will have to be equal amounts of spending reduction for any revenue. He wants an equal approach. The president does not want to talk about spending restraint, so it’s a classic battle.”
You may contact Patrick B. McGuigan at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com and follow us on Twitter: @capitolbeatok.