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Elections indeed have consequences

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By Jerianne Strange

 My friend, Wayne, and I often talk politics. It’s a safe zone for us because we have similar views and expectations. He recently reminded me of a notable quote from January 2009.

“Elections have consequences.” Those words were spoken by Barak Obama, shortly before his first inauguration.

Now that much of the dust has settled following November’s balloting, it’s time to note just how true the statement is.

Many American workers opened their first paychecks of the year to find an unpleasant surprise: The government’s cut has gone up. Over the past two years, a temporary reduction in Social Security withholdings gave us hundreds of extra dollars to spend. However, Congress allowed that break to expire during the battle over the fiscal cliff, so Social Security taxes reverted to 6.2 percent of your salary from the previous 4.2 percent.

The cut in take-home pay may put a strain on economic growth as wary consumers remain tentative in their spending. Bottom line? We are spending less because we are not sure what’s coming next and because we have less to spend. Lots of us are eating out less often, going to movies less frequently and switching to less-expensive store brands.

Several financial and tax experts have estimated the expiration of the payroll-tax cut will leave the average American household with $18 to $20 less to spend each week, or between $900 and $1,000 a year. It’s expected we will trim spending on everyday products, clothing and entertainment.

On Nov. 6, the voters spoke, presenting Obama with a second four-year term and making their choices for the Senate and House of Representatives. Since then, we have seen an unstable stock market, businesses close, unemployment creeping upward and the possibility of a new recession. And there will be more unpleasantness to come.

Many people want to lay blame at the President’s feet. Sadly, though, too many people do not realize that the outcomes of the congressional races are far more important than the end result of the presidential race. Congress truly determines the fiscal policies that come out of Washington. If we really want to put an end to reckless spending and get our country back on firm footing, it is necessary to remove the root cause of our fiscal problems: the men and women in Congress who vote for irresponsible spending and tax policies that are not fiscally efficient.

On Jan. 3, the U.S. Senate convened its first session of the 113th Congress. Democrats retained control of the Senate following the election, with 53 of the 100 seats. (Each state has two U.S. Senators, regardless of the state’s population.)

Republicans maintain the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, holding 233 of the 435 seats. According to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Office of the Clerk, there are 200 Democrats and two independents. (Each state’s representation in the House is based on its population.)

The Democrats’ Senate majority gives them the ability to influence much of the political agenda over the next two years. With a divided Congress, we are likely in store for more of the same wrangling, fussing and fidgeting when it comes to making hard-nosed but necessary decisions for this nation. And coming up behind us all: Obamacare.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), aka Obamacare, coupled with the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, represents a significant regulatory overhaul of our country’s healthcare system.

Under the Affordable Care Act, full-time employees – those working 30 hours or more per week – would have to be provided with insurance at companies with more than 50 workers. In the past few weeks, several fast-food businesses, retail businesses and other employers have already or will be cutting employee hours in order to avoid having to cover them.

Lots of people will blast the businesses for making decisions that boost their bottom line at the expense of someone else, but we were warned of this for weeks prior to the election. Economists outlined the likely impact the healthcare act would have businesses. And now it’s coming to pass.

And then there’s the debt ceiling.

Last Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed legislation to temporarily increase the country’s debt ceiling to $16.4 trillion until May 19. They added a controversial provision that would suspend lawmakers’ pay if a budget is not passed by April. (We haven’t had a national budget in nearly four years, something I personally find appalling. Then again, what’s the point of having a budget if you’re not going to adhere to it?)

The current administration is responsible for increasing our debt at a greater rate in four years than President George W. Bush did in eight years, and all of the first 42 presidents combined. And now they have increased the debt ceiling again. The next looming nightmare is the deep automatic spending cuts that likely will slam federal agencies on March 1. Leaders in both parties say the cuts will take effect, at least briefly, while lawmakers try to hammer out a deal to lower the national debt.

Is it any wonder consumers are wary, that many of us are nervous – possibly even fearful – about what will happen next? Just how bad will things get? 

What we have heard over and over is true … elections do have consequences.