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Fiscal cliff fall no reason for panic, Utah congressman says

Published: Monday, Dec. 31 2012 7:22 p.m. MST

The U.S. Capitol is seen as Congress convenes to negotiate a legislative path to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff" of automatic tax increases and deep spending cuts that could kick in Jan. 1., in Washington, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

J. Scott Applewhite, ASSOCIATED PRESS

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SALT LAKE CITY — Don't panic.

That's the advice of Rep. Jim Matheson, Utah's only Democrat in Congress, over the country falling over the so-called "fiscal cliff" on New Year's Day because no deal with the White House was finalized by the end of the year.

"It's unfortunate," Matheson said. "I share the frustration of a lot of Utahns that this should have been dealt with a long time ago. But I continue to state that I think 'the cliff' is an unfortunate term that the press has gone haywire with, quite frankly."

He said because the tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect Tuesday can still be dealt with retroactively, missing the deadline does not mean the economy has gone over a cliff.

"It doesn't happen over one day," Matheson said. "There's a much bigger issue than what just happens on Jan. 1. It's what happens in terms of the long-term fiscal balance of the country and that's what everyone needs to focus on."

The House will be in session Tuesday but may not vote on the deal that would restore tax cuts to most Americans but raise rates on individuals earning more than $400,000 and households earning more than $450,000.

Matheson wasn't ready to say how he would vote. The details of the deal negotiated behind closed doors between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky and Vice President Joe Biden were still being worked out Monday evening.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, was also waiting to see the deal in bill form before deciding if he could support it. The Senate was not expected to take up the issue until late Monday or early Tuesday morning. 

"I'm still against tax increases. But what constitutes a tax increase is a loaded question and it brings up all kinds of other issues," Lee said, including whether waiting to vote on the deal until after the scheduled tax increases take effect counts as a tax cut.

"There's an argument to be made there. A lot of people see it that way," Lee said. "There are lots of difficult line-drawing questions that go into that. That's one of many reason why I'm not going to indicate how I'll vote until after I see it."

Lee, who accused President Barack Obama of playing 'political games' with the fiscal cliff talks, said he was surprised and disappointed with the president's speech on the issue Monday, delivered before a partisan crowd and peppered with criticisms of the GOP.

"I thought it had the feel of a pep rally," Lee said. "It's not typically what you see or expect from a president in the middle of a delicate negotiation, to go on television with a pep rally and insult his negotiating partner."

Gov. Gary Herbert expressed frustration with both Congress and President Barack Obama.

"As every state faces a fragile economic recovery and when the impact hits everyday Americans and families most, what has happened in Washington, D.C., today is unconscionable," Herbert said in a statement.

"I find it extremely disappointing and completely frustrating—an utter lack of leadership at all levels, from the House to the Senate, and especially the president himself. The president ought to grab Congress by the scruff of the neck and broker a deal. The American public ought to be just outraged."

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com

Twitter: dnewspolitics

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