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Casey: Congress likely to keep tax cuts, spending

| Saturday, June 23, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton
JAMES KNOX | Tribune-Review
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton

Congress likely will have little choice but to extend Bush-era tax cuts and delay a year-end deadline that would trigger deep, automatic spending cuts, to avoid another recession, Sen. Bob Casey Jr. said on Friday.

Since public confidence in Congress “took a really big, devastating hit because of the debt ceiling (arguments), you'll have a lot of people — investors, taxpayers, markets — that'll start to get worried in September” that Democrats and Republicans won't agree on how to avoid the cuts, Casey told Tribune-Review editors and reporters.

It will be difficult for incumbents, including President Obama, to avoid blame from voters in November for economic woes afflicting the United States and European countries, the senator said.

Casey, a Scranton Democrat who chairs the Joint Economic Committee, said he's worried the economy could sour months before the deadline. Though he would like to reach a comprehensive tax and deficit deal, the rancor of a presidential election and partisan stubbornness mean Congress' best option might be to extend the deadlines, he said.

“If you're an incumbent, you've got a lot of pressure on you because of this economy,” Casey said. “People are going to assess blame on Election Day in lots of ways, and I know as a candidate I have to prepare myself for that.”

If spending cuts and the tax increase took effect together, the sudden removal of hundreds of billions of dollars from the economy could shock the country into a recession, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and other economists warn.

The Republican-controlled House and Democrat-controlled Senate rarely talk to each other, and their inability to work together last year led to the first credit downgrade in history from ratings agency Standard & Poor's.

“The credit rating hit was an indictment of Congress and our politics and political system more than it was a financial determination,” Casey said.

When it downgraded government debt to a step below the sterling AAA level, S&P blamed partisan gridlock for a near-default on U.S. debt because Congress nearly failed to raise the debt ceiling in August.

The deal that raised the ceiling included $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts over 10 years, scheduled to take effect Jan. 1. The idea was to make the cuts so dangerous and unpopular that lawmakers would be forced to work together.

In office since 2007, Casey faces criticism from Republican challenger Tom Smith, 64, an Armstrong County coal entrepreneur, for supporting burdensome Environmental Protection Agency pollution regulations on coal-fired power plants.

Casey said his vote not to overturn EPA regulations was “the right vote” because he weighed pollution-related public health concerns against potential job losses in utilities.

Smith calls Casey a career politician who votes in lockstep with Obama, whose approval rating slipped to 43 percent in the latest Gallup poll.

In a recent letter Casey sent to potential campaign donors, he noted that he leads Smith by 7 to 20 percentage points in polls but cautioned: “The not-so-good news is that all those polls have me at less than 50 percent — a real warning signal for incumbent candidates.”

Casey could benefit from the fact that Republicans are spreading campaign resources to target 23 Democrats among the 33 contested Senate seats in the fall, said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia.

“Republicans have many other places to spend their money in open seats or against more vulnerable Democratic incumbents,” Kondik said. “There are at least 10 seats currently held by Democrats that are probably going to be more competitive than this race, and that doesn't even count the up to four competitive Republican-held seats.”

Casey's campaign reported raising about $6.1 million, with about $5.3 million available in April; Smith raised $5.8 million and had about $2 million on hand. Smith contributed $5 million of his own money to defeat four other Republicans in the primary.

Staff writer Salena Zito contributed to this report.

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