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Nelson backs filibuster reform, Democratic approach on fiscal cliff

Posted Dec 8, 2012 by William March

Updated Dec 8, 2012 at 04:13 PM

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is recommending a two-step response by Congress to deal with the impending “fiscal cliff” that essentially comports with President Barack Obama’s proposals.

Nelson said he also favors reform of Senate filibuster rules.

On the fiscal cliff, Nelson said in an interview Friday, the first step is for Congress to stop the “sequestration” spending cuts and tax increases scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1 if there is no agreement on the budget, instead going along with legislation already passed by the Senate to end the Bush-era tax cuts on income above $250,000 a year.

Second, after the turn of the year, negotiate toward an “overall grand bargain” including a reform of the tax code.

“You can actually lower rates by getting rid of tax loopholes” and implementing selected spending cuts, he said. “If this happened, the stock market, the economy will take off like a rocket.”

After the new congress takes office, “You’ve got a bunch of Republican senators that in fact want to do a deal,” he said. “Hopefully would be done within the first six months of 2013.”

The sequestration cuts and tax increases were part of a deal reached in Congress in 2011 to raise the national debt ceiling. Sequestration was intended as a “meat cleaver hanging over the heads” of the Congress to force a budget-balancing deal, he said.

“It was never intended to go into effect. It was put in … in order to get them to come to agreement, and they didn’t. We can’t afford that.”

The cuts would include $500 billion from defense and $500 billion from non-defense discretionary spending.

“Transportation, the Corps of Engineers, any project that’s dear to Tampa” would be affected, he said.

The “targeted spending cuts” need not include structural changes to Social Security and Medicare, Nelson said.

He said Social Security “is not in trouble – it’s actuarially sound until 2034.”

The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, has already made reforms in Medicare that will produce $716 billion of savings over 10 years, he said. Further savings, $120 billion, could be achieved by allowing the Medicare program to negotiate discount prices for prescription drug purchases as other government health programs already do.

He said some of the most popular tax deductions with the middle class, including mortgage interest and charitable giving, and the child tax credit, “will not be touched,” except possibly for at higher income levels.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has indicated he wants to change filibuster rules to prevent the Republican Senate minority from preventing passage of any significant legislation.

Reid has said he might take that step on the opening day of the new Senate after the New Year, when it can be done with a majority vote instead of the supermajority usually required to change Senate rules.

Nelson said he favors ending the “silent filibuster” in which a minority or even a single senator can halt legislation simply by threatening a filibuster, and returning to the traditional requirement that a senator or group of them actually hold the Senate floor and talk to conduct a filibuster.

He also said a filibuster should not be allowed on a motion to proceed on a bill, though it would continue to be allowed on a bill itself. Filibusters also should not be allowed on motions to appoint and send senators to House-Senate conference committees that hash out differences in legislation between the two bodies, although they would be allowed in consideration of the proposals coming from the conference.

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