Nelson fears Congress won’t avoid fiscal cliff


November 28th, 2012

Omaha, NE – U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson said he’s not sure Congress will strike a deal in time to avert the looming fiscal cliff. In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Nelson said there’s a lot of “talk” going on in Washington, but not a lot of “action.”

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Nelson is retiring from the U.S. Senate at the end of the year. And as the Nebraska Democrat talked with reporters in one of his last weekly conference calls from Washington, his frustration with his current colleagues was evident.

“When you create your own crisis and you create your own deadline that’s nearly impossible to meet, the people back home are looking in disbelief,” Nelson said. “They see a disarray in Washington the likes of which people have never seen before.”

Retiring Democrat Sen. Ben Nelson says it’s unlikely Congress can come up with a meaningful fiscal plan before Jan. 1. (Photo courtesy U.S. Senate)

When Congress first set up the automatic spending cuts and tax hikes dubbed the fiscal cliff, Nelson voted against them. The idea was to provide incentive for both sides to find a long-term solution to the debt and deficit. But Nelson said it was just another example of Congress avoiding tough decisions. Now, while Nelson says everything should be on the negotiating table, including tax hikes and spending cuts, he questioned whether negotiations are taking place. And he said careful reforms to the tax code and entitlement programs can’t be achieved before the January 1st deadline. “How can you reform entitlement programs in 30 days?” Nelson said, “and do it in a careful and well-crafted way, how can you do that?”

“Everybody knew this was going to come down to the wire here if we didn’t act promptly,” he said. “And we took a year and a half to do nothing because all we had was electioneering.”

Nelson said every state’s economy, including Nebraska’s, will be hurt if Congress fails to act.

Nelson also addressed another partisan issue on Capitol Hill: the potential nomination of UN Ambassador Susan Rice as Secretary of State. Nelson echoed criticism of Rice for failing to call the September attack on a U.S. Consulate in Libya pre-meditated terrorism. Rice has drawn fire from Republicans for saying the September attack was a spontaneous event several days after it occurred. Nelson said Rice should have “couched her comments.”

“I think what she needed to say was … we’ve had reports that said this, but reports are almost always wrong and some of them are 100% wrong,” Nelson said. “We don’t have enough information to be definitive with information that’s not classified, and I can’t go into the classified information at this point in time, that’s what she should have said.”

But Nelson added he doesn’t think Rice’s comments point to a cover up by President Obama, and he jabbed Republicans for politicizing the issue. “Look, we have a bunch of people didn’t get over the last election in 2008,” he said. “Why do we expect them to get over the election in 2012?”

Nelson said he wouldn’t comment as to whether Rice would be a good pick for Secretary of State before her nomination had occurred. As for his own plans, Nelson says he’s not yet sure what his future entails, but he does plan to return to Nebraska.

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