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WVU professors discuss 'fiscal cliff'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Leaders of the West Virginia University Eberly College of Arts and Sciences gave predictions Tuesday night about whether President Obama could compromise with Republicans on avoiding the "fiscal cliff."

Four professors offered their post-election analysis during the first installment of the college's Eberly Ideas series in the grand ballroom of the Charleston Women's Club.

The professors disagreed if -- and how quickly -- Obama would be able to gain Republican support to cut into the federal deficit.

Patrick Hickey, a WVU political science professor, said some media outlets are portraying a gridlocked situation in which Obama wouldn't get the support he needs.

However, those analysts are paying attention to party lines too closely, he said. Historically, most "landmark bills" were passed only by equal bipartisan support, such as President Bill Clinton's budget bills or Medicare expansion under George W. Bush.

"Major legislation almost never passes along party lines alone," he said.

Hickey said he's confident Obama and Congress will come together to reach a compromise based on history.

Karen Kunz, WVU public administration professor, said most of the disagreement over the fiscal cliff rests on Obama's intent to raise income taxes for the nation's top earners. On the opposite end, Republicans desire to cut tax credits and not raise income taxes for anyone.

"My prediction is there will be no change and, by Jan. 1, we will still be talking about it," Kunz said.

No one has produced a framework with details about how to resolve the deficit and there isn't a fast-track process to reducing it, she said. The two parties also have no reason to act until the 2013 deadline.

Scott Crichlow, chairman of WVU's political science department, said compromise appears to be the only way to get Obama's agenda passed. Republican gerrymandering and isolation of Democratic districts almost ensures the GOP will maintain control of the House for the next decade, he said.

The Senate, he said, likely will retain its Democratic majority, too.

The professors also discussed what factors led to Obama's victory over Mitt Romney and what factor social media played in that.

Elizabeth Cohen, a communications studies professor at WVU, said it's too early to say if social media directly impacted the election. She said there were multiple smaller effects that could have come into play.

When Romney's "47 percent" video leaked, it was exposure on Facebook and Twitter that was driving the discussion and dissection of it, she said.

"Social media didn't set that agenda," Cohen said, "but it didn't let it die."

Cohen said polling data indicated that Democrats were more active on social media and more likely to encourage others to vote. Republicans, she said, were more likely to share social media updates from other party members.

No surprise, she said, young people were more likely to use social media to get politically involved.

Crichlow said the youth vote gave Obama unprecedented margins to secure a victory. In the future, he expects the youth vote to increase, as its base leans more toward the Democratic Party.

"Any politician that is not trying to excite the youth base, you're missing out," he said.

Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.


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