With the fiscal cliff legislation recently approved, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan is gearing up for the next major debate over the national debt.
The Niles Democrat, who became the representative of Ohio's new 13th district today, said in a Wednesday conference call that he hopes the recent victory on the fiscal cliff bill will signal some momentum with the new Congress. But he's not too optimistic, recognizing that some incoming representatives are more conservative than those they are replacing.
The U.S. will reach its legal borrowing limit in about two months. In 2011, Congress debating raising the debt ceiling, and political brinksmanship over the issue led to the downgrade of the country's credit rating.
Ryan said Congress needs to discuss the issue immediately, and not wait until the 11th hour.
"We need to stay right here and work on the problem," he said. "It's going to take both parties sitting down and having discussions as adults."
The cliff deal, approved by a late vote of 257 to 167 on New Year's night, raises taxes on individuals who make more than $400,000 and couples who make more than $450,000. It also extends expiring unemployment benefits for long-term jobless, cancels a scheduled $900 pay increase for lawmakers, and neutralizes tax hikes on the middle class that would have taken effect with the new year.
Nearly 80 Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner, joined Democrats in support of the bill. Ryan said he believed they did so because, even though they disliked some parts of the measure, they knew that doing nothing would have resulted in devastating tax increases for millions of people, and would have had a negative effect on the economy.
"It would have put the economy into a tailspin," he said. "Nobody wants the middle class to face thousands of dollars in tax increases at a time when they're trying to make ends meet."
And there are things he's not thrilled with in the bill either, most notably the decision not to raise taxes on people who make between $250,000 and $400,000, and the decision to extend earned income tax credits instead of making them permanent.
"You're not going to get everything you want," he said. "You're not going to get everything in one bite."
Ryan said he believes entitlements will be a big issue in the next financial debate to face lawmakers. But he said the focus should be on programs that grow the economy, and cuts to those programs should be avoided. He said there is ample room to cut in the defense budget, supplies for the military and more efficiencies in Medicare.
He acknowledged that Americans are sick of the gridlock, and that it's "bad for the economy, bad for the market."
He also weighed in on today's vote, when John Boehner will seek another term as Speaker of the House. While he doesn't see a strongly organized effort to unseat him, he said it would be sad if more conservative Republicans tried to mount a challenge.
"He's a good guy from Ohio, and he's doing the best he can," he said. "To cut this out from under him would do a great disservice to leadership."
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