Somewhere along the way, too many leaders in Washington lose
sight of the people they went there to serve. They become jaded
politicians worried more about party loyalty, embarrassing the
other side and re-election than about their constituents.
They become willing to let the nation crash over a fiscal cliff that will likely drive a fragile economic recovery back into recession as part of some grand political game. Partisans on both sides believe the cliff could benefit them politically, the effects on real people be damned.
Some Democrats argue that if tax rates automatically return to what they were before the Bush-era cuts, then Republicans could be convinced to support changes without violating the foolish anti-tax pledge many have taken.
Some Republicans argue that going over the cliff will deliver long-sought spending cuts, over Democratic objections.
This is no game. In less than a week, with the dawn of a new year, the fiscal cliff will arrive. If Congress and the White House do not act, deep federal spending cuts and steep tax increases will affect every American. Real people will lose real jobs. States that have already weathered years of fiscal trauma will take a fresh hit, Virginia particularly with its reliance on federal spending.
The cliff is a manufactured crisis, an agreement reached when Republicans and Democrats bickered about the debt ceiling more than a year ago. It is an artificial deadline, but one with real consequences. The notion was that the cliff would present such a dire threat that the two major parties would have to come together to prevent it. They failed.
With mere days left, hope of a grand bargain that would make substantive revenue and spending changes is all but gone. Reluctant House Republicans will brook no tax increase, even just on the top 1 percent of incomes. Even if President Obama and Republican House Speaker John Boehner can strike a big deal, legislative logistics make passage by the end of the year difficult.
The more hopeful approach now lies in the very artificiality of the crisis. What Congress created a year and a half ago, it can dismantle or at least postpone. Delaying expiration of tax rates and benefits as well as sequestration requires only a simple bill.
It should never have come to this, but it has. Punting for more time now is preferable to crashing over the fiscal cliff. Give the nation at least the slim hope that something better could still emerge.
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