U.S. Rep. John Shimkus said Wednesday he has no idea whether President Barack Obama and U.S. House Speaker John Boehner will work out a deal before Dec. 31 and avoid a fiscal cliff consisting of scheduled steep tax increases and across-the-board federal spending cuts.
Obama, a Democrat, and Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, are set to meet Friday to begin negotiations aimed at avoiding a scary scenario of events that some experts believe could push the American economy back into recession.
"So I think we'll learn more then," said Shimkus, R-Collinsville, who was re-elected last week. "Because, unfortunately, there haven't been any formal discussions. It's all been through the media, which is not a good way to negotiate."
Obama has proposed a $4 trillion deficit reduction plan, including $1.6 trillion in new revenue over 10 years, principally through higher tax rates on individual taxpayers earning more than $200,000 annually and married couples who earn more than $250,000.
The aim is to make a significant dent in the nation's $16 trillion public debt, which has mushroomed over the last decade because of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an unfunded expansion of a Medicare drug benefit, a nearly $500 billion bailout of Wall Street and the American auto industry and an economic stimulus package worth $787 billion to avert a deeper recession.
Shimkus declined to say whether he supports tax increases on the wealthy, but indicated he backed other revenue increases, such as through basic reform of the federal tax code and containing cost increases in big entitlement programs such as Medicare.
"Our national debt is created by the expansion in entitlement programs," he said. "And so we have to have fundamental reform of the drivers of the debt. No increase in revenue solves that problem."
Shimkus said he wants to see a "fairer, flatter tax code," and lower tax rates.
"You lower the rates, you expand the base," he said.
U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Belleville, who steps down Jan. 3 after 24 years in office, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
If Obama and Congress can't reach a deal by Dec. 31 to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff," then tax cuts enacted during the tenure of former President George W. Bush will expire Jan. 1, resulting in a $600 billion wallop to Americans' wallets.
In addition, failure to reach a deal will mean 10-percent across-the-board spending cuts will hit virtually all federal programs, a scenario the U.S. Congress agreed to allow in 2011 as the price for ending a stalemate over lifting the nation's debt ceiling.
At least $109 billion in abrupt, unmanaged cuts would occur to federal spending in 2013.
Last month, some members of Congress had discussed passing a "bridge," or delay of the scheduled spending cuts, Shimkus said.
"But I haven't heard that terminology since I was back here this week," he said.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, said Monday that he supported Obama's plans for deficit reduction based on tax increases for high-income Americans, while extending the tax cuts for middle-income taxpayers.
"The president has proposed that those making over $250,000 a year pay a little more," Durbin said. "I don't think that is unreasonable," Durbin said.
Middle-income Americans, " working families, need to be spared a tax increase," Durbin said. "Many of them are struggling paycheck to paycheck. ... We need to give those working families a helping hand to make sure they don't face a tax rise."
A CNN/Washington Post survey of 1,000 adults nationwide released Wednesday indicated that about half believed Congress will fail to agree on a deficit-reduction plan. In which case, 53 percent of those polled would blame Republicans for the failure, while 29 percent would blame Obama, CNN reported.
Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2533.