Congress rushed to reach a last-minute compromise Tuesday to avert the fiscal cliff. Over the edge, at least three painful peaks loomed — higher taxation, reduced government services and another recession.
But you’ll have to excuse us if we’re not fawning all over the Washington politicians who got the deal done. Here is the question on our lips: Can you be both a procrastinator and a hero?
Simply put, this deal — nay, a better deal than this — could have, should have been done months ago. The fiscal cliff didn’t appear suddenly, out of nowhere, on the political/economic horizon. To the contrary, everyone knew that the Bush-era tax cuts would expire and automatic reductions in the federal budget would kick in at the end of 2012.
But President Obama, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Speaker of the House John Boehner and other principles were too busy posturing and tending to the November election to do anything about it.
That left the rest of the country to wring its hands as a financial doomsday approached. Many folks who really need the money stood to lose thousands of dollars in annual income. And those who depend on government programs such as long-term unemployment worried that the floor would open up beneath them. The stock market herked and jerked, anticipating another recession.
Alas, a deal was done, and there was compromise on all sides. The president backed off his determination to raise taxes for those earning over $250,000, upping the watershed to $450,000 for a household. Republicans talked themselves down from their mission to balance the budget and reduce the national debt, giving ground on estate taxation and unemployment benefits.
We can all breathe a sigh of relief. The broad-based tax increases have been staved off (though most folks will feel the sting of increased payroll taxes for Social Security). Automatic cuts of $110 billion in a combination of domestic and miliary spending have been forestalled.
But our respite will be short. The so-called “sequester,” automatic reductions in federal largesse, looms just two months ahead, and local schools are already feeling the pinch. In addition, the agreement that was reached Tuesday dictates $12 billion in new revenue be raised and $12 billion in spending cuts be found. And Congressional battles over the federal debt ceiling and a budget resolution are already ramping up.
Yes, our leaders in Washington got the most important work done — they averted the fiscal cliff. But the solution isn’t really a solution. It’s just a stop-gap measure. What we need is real leadership that will collaborate to navigate our nation’s labyrinth of financial woes — and not wait until the 11th hour to do so.