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November 14, 2012

Column: Congress has chance to end year on high note

The way this year ends in Congress will be a good indication of how the New Year will start.

There will be 12 newcomers in the Senate, with Democrats holding a 55-to-45 edge. That’s still short of the 60 votes the Democrats need to break the almost-automatic Republican filibusters that have hamstrung the Senate. It could, however, be enough votes if Senate Democrats are angry enough at the end of the year at what they see as GOP obstructionism to change the filibuster rule. It would be a prelude to a contentious year.

Republicans retain a firm, if slightly diminished, grip on the House with a comfortable margin of 30 or so votes, depending on six races still undecided. About 70 of the incoming lawmakers will be newcomers, and one can only hope that they are more experienced and more amenable to compromise than the tea party-movement-heavy class of 2010.

The intransigence of that class and its willingness to buck its own leadership created this Congress’ — and perhaps the next one’s, too — single biggest challenge, the perfect storm of $600 billion in tax hikes and budget cuts that will hit in early January if nothing is done.

To put pressure on themselves, and because House Speaker John Boehner could not sell a compromise to his hard-core conservatives, the lawmakers voted for $110 billion in automatic across-the-board budget cuts in domestic and defense programs in early January.

Boehner returned from the seven-week congressional recess suggesting a possible compromise: While Republicans were unalterably opposed to increases in tax rates, they did favor increases in tax revenues.

The most direct way to raise revenues is to clean up the tax loopholes, exemptions and preferences in the tax code.

The odds may be against it, but the old year could end and the New Year begin on a high note. There are such things as holiday miracles.

Dale McFeatters writes for the Scripps Howard News Service.

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