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Assistant Senate Majority Leader Weighs in on Fiscal Cliff
The clock is ticking for lawmakers in Washington to figure out how to steer the country away from the so-called fiscal cliff.
If the Republicans and Democrats in Washington can't compromise, economists say the country could fall into another recession.
As a group of bipartisan Congressional leaders met with the president to discuss the pending crisis, Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin addressed the matter during a public policy breakfast in Springfield.
"The cliff is our high noon," Durbin said. "Get serious, get it done."
Democrats and Republicans, together with the president, created the fiscal cliff.
It's a self-imposed deadline of December 31. If lawmakers don't act, the Bush-era tax cuts will expire.
That means most Americans will pay more in federal income taxes. Extended unemployment benefits will not be an option. Spending to areas like defense will be cut.
Economists warn all of that could push the country back into recession.
"We start by saying revenue and taxes have to be part of this," Durbin said. "I believe those should be paid by people in the highest income categories."
Senate Democrats want to preserve the tax cuts for middle-class families but end breaks for the wealthy.
Republicans say increases are unacceptable. But they're willing to negotiate on deductions.
House Speaker John Boehner was one of four Congressional leaders who met with President Obama behind closed doors Friday.
"I outlined a framework that deals with reforming our tax code and reforming our spending," Boehner said. "I believe the framework I've outlined is consistent with the President's call for a fair and balanced approach."
Durbin recommends coming up with a number and a split between revenue and spending cuts for the next 10 years. Then, he says, Congress should examine the most expensive deduction in the federal tax code: the employers' exclusion of health insurance premiums.
"When an employer pays a percent of your health insurance, you don't pay taxes on it," Durbin said.
Lawmakers have six weeks to reach an agreement to avoid the steep slope.
"I remain optimistic," Boehner said.
The White House is calling Friday's meeting between the president and four top congressional leaders "constructive." Congressional leaders say they're confident they can reach a deal before Christmas.