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Originally published Saturday, January 5, 2013 at 8:34 PM

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Rep. Smith: 'Fiscal cliff' deal is bad math

Last week, when Congress fell on its fiscal face, it was Rep. Adam Smith who stood out with a spot-on analysis of what might actually fix the mess.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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Good riddance to what's been dubbed the rottenest Congress in U.S. history. But there's at least one guy back there who seems to get what ails us.

Surprisingly, it's the Seattle congressman.

No, not that Seattle congressman. The other one. The new one.

OK, Rep. Adam Smith, a Democrat, is hardly new, having been in Congress for eight terms already. He also lives in Bellevue. But redistricting last year means 150,000 Seattle residents now are represented by someone other than their congressman-for-life, Jim McDermott.

And last week, when Congress fell on its fiscal face, it was Smith who stood out with a spot-on analysis of what might actually fix the mess.

None of which is likely to be popular.

" 'Adam Smith wants to raise taxes and cut entitlements!' — that's not a headline my media person is going to love," Smith joked Friday.

Nearly alone among Congress' 535 members, Smith voted against the fiscal-cliff deal because it contained the worst of both conservative and liberal excesses.

It made permanent 90 percent of the terrible Bush tax cuts, which were temporary before.

"George W. Bush is the real winner in all this," he said. "Can you believe it? Bush won! In a stopgap measure, we gave him the permanent tax cuts he couldn't get as president."

On the flip side, the deal had no spending cuts. The Republicans are so anti-tax that only the top 0.7 percent got an income-tax hike. As for President Obama, he's guilty of lulling the country with "bad math" — to borrow a barb Obama used on his election opponent.

"Obama's budget math doesn't add up as badly as Mitt Romney's did, but it's still bad math," Smith says.

Oh, and those entitlement programs — Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security? Smith says if we're not willing to pay more — which neither party nor the American people appear to be — then get ready for a cut-a-thon.

"The idea that we can fund all this and only raise taxes on earners over $250,000 — or now this new threshold of $450,000 — it's crazy," he said. "So without taxes, we have to cut, and yes that means defense and eventually entitlements. They aren't holy writ. We simply have to spend less going forward."

He said he's been "very uncomfortable" with Obama's pledges to never raise taxes on 98 percent of American families.

"His insistence that we only tax the rich has put us in a box," he said. "It isn't realistic. It means we just made a policy decision that we're going to have bigger cuts to important programs than I think people are going to want."

Smith said he supports reversing the Bush tax cuts down to the $100,000 level or lower. Not at once, but over time. Same with any cuts — make them incremental but widely shared, over a 10-year period so as not to disrupt lives or the economy.

But in House Democratic leadership meetings, Smith finds himself shaking his head as his own party advocates historically low taxes for nearly everyone, but also robust social programs. Republicans are more craven, with a platform of "cut taxes, bash government and wait."

Why not form some "Gang of the Sane" caucus? I asked. It would be about as popular as the IRS. But it might influence the debate.

Smith said Congress is so polarized there isn't much middle left. He cited a few in the Senate, from both parties, but said the House has become "a pretty lonely place."

"It's worse than people think," Smith said. "Neither party is even talking about doing what it's going to take."

And how is liberal Seattle liking its new congressman? (His district now includes the Central Area and southeast Seattle.)

I noticed a few online blasts to his calls for entitlement cuts, suggesting he take his "Republican talking points" back to Pierce County, where he used to live.

"Seattle was fantastic to me in the election," Smith said. "But we're still in the getting-to-know-you phase. It might take some time."

Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com.

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