Pryor, Boozman ready to face ‘fiscal cliff’


WASHINGTON — U.S. Sens. Mark Pryor and John Boozman said Wednesday they want Congress to overcome partisan gridlock and find a solution to the looming “fiscal cliff” of tax hikes and budget cuts that could further damage the economy.

While neither Arkansan was on the ballot Tuesday, both said they heard the plea of voters for both parties to work together.

“The situation with the Bush tax cuts coming to an end … and sequestration with automatic cuts that I believe would devastate the military … we have to deal with that,” said Boozman, a Republican.

Pryor, a Democrat, said he would like to come up with a framework where people know the lawmakers are serious.

In separate telephone interviews Wednesday, the two Arkansas lawmakers said that overcoming the gridlock is possible but will require leaders of both parties to compromise.

“We can fix this. It is just a matter of political will and it doesn’t get any better by putting it off. Nothing gets easier,” Pryor said.

Boozman said the country is watching and legislators need to start providing certainty to the business community.

Neither expects that Congress can hammer out a complete agreement in the two months that remain for the 112th Congress. Instead, they believe Congress can set up a mechanism to avoid the “fiscal cliff” and insure that real tax and budget reforms occur.

“I would like to see some sort of agreement to extend all the (Bush) tax provisions for a period of time — six months or a year — and have a real deal struck such that during that time period we make progress and get tax reform done,” Boozman said.

Pryor suggested an alternate path. He would have Congress immediately adopt the Bowles-Simpson proposal to reduce the deficit but delay its starting date for six months. Critics of any provisions of the plan would then have time to offer alternatives.

“If you have a better idea or want to shape it in another way you would have six months to come up with something better,” Pryor said.

The Simpson-Bowles Commission was created in 2010 by President Obama to come up with ways to address the national debt. The panel’s recommendations included spending cuts, raising revenues and reducing entitlements.

Pryor and Boozman do not see a need for sweeping changes to Senate rules — such as eliminating the filibuster — as a way of breaking partisan gridlock.

The rules, they say, have worked in the past and can work again given the right kind of leadership.

“Both sides of the aisle need to insist on different tactics and different strategies,” Pryor said.

But Pryor and Boozman have different views on what caused the partisan gridlock. Boozman said that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is to blame while Pryor puts the onus on Senate Minority Leader Mitch

McConnell, R-Ky.

“I feel we wasted the last two years when Mitch McConnell came out and said his No. 1 priority was to make sure Barack Obama did not get re-elected. He meant it. And, every week we saw it on the Senate floor,” Pryor said.

Boozman said that Senate Republicans were forced to filibuster bills — not to hurt Obama — but because Reid was cutting Republicans out of the legislative process.

“On bill after bill that came up, the majority leader used parliamentary tricks to block amendments. Because of that, Republicans had no input into the crafting of bills. That’s not how the system was designed to work,” Boozman said.