Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Congress returns to Washington this week for its lame-duck session, and what lawmakers do will have a significant effect on the country. Congressional leaders are trying to find a way to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, a series of budget cuts and tax increases that are scheduled to take effect next year.
The Congressional Budget Office reported this month that the nation likely will fall into another economic recession and higher unemployment if the fiscal cliff’s prescribed outcomes are triggered. The middle class would be hit particularly hard.
That should be enough to force congressional action, but there is plenty of reason to be pessimistic. Since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in the 2010 election, Congress hasn’t had a very good record of accomplishment.
Thinking the 2010 election was their mandate, the Republicans have demanded that the country bow to their anti-government ideology. The result has been gridlock. Republicans say that their obstructionism has saved the country from economic calamity. That’s ironic considering they mocked the Obama administration’s correct statement that the stimulus measures helped save the country from further economic suffering, including higher unemployment and a possible depression.
The Republicans’ action has harmed the country by stalling recovery. For evidence, look no further than the downgrading of the U.S. credit rating in 2011.
It bears noting that the nation shouldn’t even be in this situation. Nobody wanted the fiscal cliff in the first place. It was essentially put into a bill last year as a poison pill that would kick in only if lawmakers couldn’t make a budget deal. The fiscal cliff, which included significant cuts to the military, was thought to be so serious that no one in Congress would allow it to happen.
But because of the wide divide between the parties, it did, and here we are, facing a recession. It is imperative that lawmakers act to avoid that for the good of the country, particularly the middle class.
Of course, the Republicans haven’t been concerned about finding pragmatic solutions. Their strategy, in the words of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, was to make Barack Obama a one-term president.
Now that the election is done and they’ve failed in their quest, perhaps Republicans will look at the bigger issues and find a way to work with the president. Not that anyone expects that to be easy. Beyond the politics, there are some serious issues to iron out, particularly the deficit.
If there were no fiscal cliff, the federal deficit likely would increase by $503 billion next year, and it would add an additional $682 billion in 2014, according to the CBO. At the same point, the economy would be expected to grow, whereas it would contract if the fiscal cliff’s measures take effect.
Getting the economy growing is crucial, but any deficit increase may be unpalatable to the Republicans who have made slashing government their top priority. They may see the fiscal cliff as a good thing because it would cause a cut to the deficit. The results, though, would be disastrous. The nation can’t afford another recession.
The deficit must be addressed, but the nation didn’t get into this situation overnight, nor will it get out of it overnight. Congress should take a balanced, long-term approach in dealing with the budget, the deficit and the economy. It needs to first avoid the fiscal cliff and then lay out a plan to put the federal budget on sound financial footing.
Both parties will have to make compromises, but after the past two years, a deal is incumbent upon Republicans. They need to show they’re willing to put the country’s best interests ahead of their ideology.