U.S. House members returning to work today face two key issues before the end of the year: trying to avoid the looming fiscal cliff and determining whether to continue the Bush tax cuts.
"The issues are huge," U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, said Monday. "This is the most difficult time.
"The stakes have never been higher."
Granger and others gather today in Washington, D.C., to spend the next five weeks crafting a plan to avoid tax increases and government spending reductions that without any congressional action would go into effect next year.
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She knows the government remains deeply divided, but she's optimistic that elected officials will do the right thing.
"In a campaign, compromise is a very bad word," Granger told a crowd of about 350 Monday at the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce's Leaders in Government Series at the Sheraton Fort Worth Hotel & Spa. "But that's what politicians do to be effective.
"Yes, we can get out of this mess."
Congressional leaders across the country have spent the weeks since the Nov. 6 presidential election with constituents trying to identify priorities and any approaches recommended for dealing with the tough issues of the day.
At the top of their to-do list is finding a plan they can agree on to prevent massive across-the-board cuts from going into effect. These cuts were triggered by a supercommittee's inability last year to identify ways to significantly cut the federal deficit over the next decade.
But Granger and others say Congress still has time to come up with a compromise to prevent those spending cuts from automatically occurring.
Granger said part of the solution may well rest with addressing some of the government's biggest costs -- Medicare and Social Security -- as well as potentially revamping the nation's tax system.
"This is an opportunity for us to fix things," she said. "But it may be a patch to get through the fiscal cliff.
"Don't turn your backs on us if that happens," she said, adding that she believes a long-term solution will follow.
Republican U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison recently said she believes elected officials will work together to do what is needed.
"I believe we will come up with a way forward," she said during Sunday's State of the Union program on CNN. "Do I think we're going to do everything by the end of this year? Probably not.
"But I think we will not have a fiscal cliff," she said. "We will have a plan, hopefully, to go forward."
A second priority, Granger said, is addressing the Bush tax cuts.
These cuts went into effect after 9-11 as a way to try to temporarily help Americans and the economy as well. Set to expire in 2010, the cuts have since been extended. Without another extension, the cuts will expire in 2013.
Several local officials say they believe the cuts, which give a typical middle-class family a tax break of about $2,200 a year, should be extended again. Otherwise, families nationwide will see tax increases for everything from child tax credits to employee payroll taxes.
"Right now ... is not the time to have the most massive tax increase since World War II," Granger said.
U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, said she wants to see the tax cuts extended as well.
"For the good of our country and our economy, we must work together to quickly extend tax cuts for 98 percent of all Americans," Johnson said in a statement sent out Monday.
"If Congress fails to act, middle-class families will see their income taxes go up in 2013.
"It is essential that we work together to provide certainty and peace of mind to families, retailers and small businesses during this holiday season."
Reach Anna M. Tinsley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @annatinsley