Platts
Platts

Perhaps nothing can foster uncertainty - whether in business or in the private sector - more than an evocative term such as "fiscal cliff."

With visions of a careening Congress in their heads, about 100 business and community leaders attended a forum Tuesday in the hopes U.S. Rep. Todd Platts, R-York County, could demystify and inform about Washington's efforts to avoid the edge.

Platts spoke during a Pennsylvania Economy League and York Chamber of Commerce issues forum at the Yorktowne Hotel, telling attendees he will compromise but the passage of a plan hinges on whether Congress and President Barack Obama will do the same.

What's happening: On Dec. 31, the Bush-era tax cuts are set to expire at the same time as stimulus breaks such as the payroll-tax holiday. Those expirations coincide with the implementation of sequestration, billions in defense and other federal spending cuts agreed to last year during talks to raise the debt ceiling.

Economic experts have said pulling all of that money from a recovering economy could be enough of a loss to push it back into recession.

Democrats and Obama want to keep the Bush tax cuts for everyone except individuals who make more than $200,000 and households making more than $250,000 a year.

Republicans don't want them to expire for anyone, and many House Republicans have signed conservative lobbyist and activist Grover Norquist's pledge not to raise taxes.

Platts told the crowd Tuesday morning that he never signed the pledge, which he considers a block to the kind of bipartisanship needed to avoid the cliff.

He said legislators, as they did with a tax increase to pay for World War II, need to do what's best for the country instead of basing decisions on the desires of "an outside group."

"Congress did what it needed to do to pay its bills and save the world," he said.

Defense cuts: Platts said he's opposed to the billions of dollars in cuts coming to the Department of Defense if sequestration moves forward, saying the cuts would be "devastating" for the military.

He said he supports a proposal from Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to keep tax breaks for all but those who make more than $1 million per year. That, he said, alleviates his concerns that small businesses will be affected.

Small businesses: The higher number is "certainly more palatable" to small businesses than the president's proposal, said chamber executive vice president Bob Jensenius.

He said the chamber hasn't taken a position on any of the cliff proposals, but event organizers wanted to inform members on the various measures so they can "digest" the various solutions.

"The tone of the room was one of seriousness and concern that Republicans and Democrats and the president can come together on a solution," Jensenius said after the event.

He said members are concerned about "a dysfunctional Congress" that created the fiscal cliff by forcing issues to a point where collaboration was needed, "and they're wondering, 'Is this the group that can't shoot straight?'"

The business community wants to "see a clear path" that keeps the "social safety net" and national security safe while the country works to pay on its debt, he said.

Steve Hovis, an attorney with York-based Stock and Leader, called the uncertainty disconcerting and it's not clear whether legislators will be able to reach a bipartisan compromise.

"And what will that compromise look like, because the complete package is important," he said.

Platts, when asked by one member if legislators will wait until "the 11th hour" to vote, said Jan. 2 is his last day in Congress before he retires from the seat. He'll be prepared to do whatever he needs to do until then, he said.

- Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffman@yorkdispatch.com.