D.C. Watch: 2012 election results in status quo

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The 2012 election is finally over and after months (and in some cases years) of campaigning and spending totaling an estimated $6 billion, there will be little change in the government.

President Obama was re-elected, the Senate will still be controlled by the democrats and the republicans retained control of the House of Representatives. The approval rating of the current Congress is near an all-time low. But it appears that people disapprove of Congress in general, but mostly support the people that represent their own state or district. We won’t know right away if the election has done anything to ease the gridlock that has kept the government from dealing with some critical issues and problems, but on the surface it appears that we are just in for more of the same.

Reducing the deficit was a campaign slogan for a majority of candidates in this year’s election. However, reducing the deficit won’t be an easy task. Data from the Congressional Budget Office shows that tax receipts for fiscal 2012 totaled $2.45 trillion. Total outlays for Social Security, Medicare and Medicade, national defense and interest on the debt soak up 97.6% of that! Few in Congress are willing or able to make cuts to those programs, and that leaves just $60 billion (2.4%) of 2012’s tax receipts to pay for all the other government services - and food stamps alone now costing about $80 billion!

The “fiscal cliff” is one of the first things the new Congress will need to deal with. If Congress does nothing, taxes will rise by billions of dollars at the beginning of 2013, affecting essentially every American. If Congress does not pass new legislation, automatic spending cuts totaling about $109 billion for 2013 kick in at the beginning of the year. But even with the cuts, the country will again hit the latest debt ceiling early in 2013. Congress will have to act again. And it now looks like there will need to be a supplemental appropriations bill to help deal with the problems caused by hurricane Sandy, adding to the deficit. The problems just keep stacking up as a gridlocked Congress hasn’t been able to solve them the past four years.

There are differing views on how the election will affect the currently stalled farm bill. Some believe that since the new Congress will look much like the current one, there will be little incentive for either party to try to delay voting on important issues until next year. That could mean that the House will vote on the farm bill during the lame-duck session. Others say Congress will deal with more important issues in the lame-duck session, like big tax hikes and massive spending cuts that take effect Jan. 1 (the so-called “fiscal cliff”) by default if Congress can’t agree on an alternative budget before then.

Or, Congress may continue to kick the can down the road, simply extend the current farm bill and put everything off until sometime next year. It is worth noting that the Senate-passed farm bill and the bill approved by the House Agriculture Committee basically expire when the new Congress is sworn in and the whole process has to start all over.

There are few signs that Agriculture Secretary Vilsack will step down next year, but that doesn’t keep people from speculating about possible candidates to replace him. Names being discussed include former Senator Blanche Lincoln (who was the Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee until she was defeated for re-election in 2010) and current Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND). Current Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) were both re-elected and are expected to retain their positions. There were reports in the Wall Street Journal last week that EPA had decided to delay the response to the request to waive the ethanol mandate by another 90 days. But EPA denies that contention and says there has been no extension on the RFS waiver decision. EPA could announce a decision on the waiver next week.

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