D.C. Watch: Can U.S. avoid ‘fiscal cliff’?

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Democrats might consider a compromise with the GOP on a Romney concept to avoid taking the U.S. over the “fiscal cliff” of mandated tax hikes and spending cuts come Jan. 1.

One of presidential contender Mitt Romney’s ideas for compromise on balancing spending cuts with revenue increases (tax hikes) was leave tax rates alone, but limit tax deductions to $50K. He argued this would kill far fewer jobs than raising tax rates.

Independent analysis has shown that doing this would raise as much money as allowing the Bush upper-income tax rates to expire, which GOP leaders adamantly oppose. The analysis shows 73% of the additional government revenue would come from those earning incomes in excess of $1 million annually; 8% from those earning $500K-$1M, 10% from $200-500K, and 6% from $100-200K.

We’ve also seen another “trial balloon” for possible compromise to avoid the fiscal cliff that would still revoke the Bush-era tax cuts on some, but raise the threshold for revocation to $1 million from the President’s longstanding view that anyone making $250K or more is not yet paying his/her “fair share” of taxes needed.

President Obama’s best shot at a legal legacy doesn’t lie with the highest court in the land. Pundits from both parties agree that while appointing Supreme Court justices attracts attention and controversy, the president could, as one put it, “affect the law for decades by putting ideological allies on these benches”. Their reasoning? Whereas the Supreme Court may hear fewer than 100 cases per year, U.S. appellate judges review more than 350,000 cases per year and there are currently 82 federal appeals court judgeships open, about 10% of the total.

Agriculture’s biggest stake in judge appointments? R-E-G-U-L-A-T-I-O-N. That’s the area where challenges are typically made in appeals courts and rarely go on to the Supreme Court. And “unreasonable regulation” tops the list of concerns held by most of today’s farmers and ranchers; particularly livestock operations. Consider December of 2011 when the House passed a bill preventing the EPA from making “agricultural dust” a pollutant subject to Clean Air Act regulation. President Obama said at the time he would veto the bill if it got to his desk. He didn’t have to. The bill was never even taken up for debate, much less passed, in the Senate.

Study shows judges’ decisions often reflect the political party of the president who appointed them. When industries challenge a regulation, for instance, Republican appointees are more likely than Democratic ones to advocate striking it down, according to a University of Chicago Law School study. The opposite is true when the challengers are self-described “public interest” groups. The differences are even greater when panels consist of three judges sharing a party affiliation. Concludes the Chicago Law School study, “Evidence of politics in lower court rulings seems undeniable.”

Agriculture has a stake in the National Defense Authorization Act, which Congress is about to debate. Current versions would prohibit the Defense Department from moving forward with plans to replace 50% of their fuel supplies with non-petroleum biofuels by 2020. And this week, a private firm, Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), detailed not collateral “damage”, but collateral benefits to the military plans. Said an E2 spokesman, “Just as military innovation and leadership transformed our nation’s economy in sectors ranging from aviation, to communication, to computers, the military’s biofuels expansion could provide a major boost to the economy and job creation, and help transform the nation’s energy, airline and agriculture industries.”

Those who lost money in MF Global will get all their money back. In written testimony submitted to the Senate Agriculture Committee for a hearing Wednesday, trustee Louis Freeh said farmers, ranchers, traders and other investors still owed an estimated $1.6 billion "eventually will be made whole," according to a copy of the testimony.

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