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August 22, 2014

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Sun Editorial:

A new year, but …

Calendar changed, but things still look much the same in Washington

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There is plenty to criticize about the “fiscal cliff” deal, including the fact that it sets up another fight over the debt ceiling, but avoiding the cliff was great news. The series of tax increases and budget cuts that were part of the cliff, and were set to take effect Jan. 1, would have had a significant impact on the economy.

In an era of hyper-partisanship in Washington, the deal has been hailed by some people as a breakthrough. Give credit to the Senate Republicans for stepping in and negotiating a bipartisan deal after the Republican-controlled House punted.

The Senate passed its plan on an 89-9 vote even though Republicans didn’t get much of what they wanted. They apparently saw that the danger of hitting the fiscal cliff outweighed their own political agenda.

That was refreshing given that Washington in recent years has been overtaken by a winner-take-all mentality, and that has left little room for compromise and serious policy discussions.

But as much as we would like to see an end to the dysfunction in Washington, we wouldn’t describe the deal as a harbinger of change just yet. The plan the Senate approved went to the House of Representatives, where it was immediately delayed and then set upon by conservatives, who angrily complained about the bill. Rep. Steve LaTourette, R-Ohio, warned against “a package put together by a bunch of sleep-deprived octogenarians on New Year’s Eve.”

Despite his criticism, LaTourette voted for the plan, saying that it was better than letting taxes go up on millions of middle-class Americans.

Indeed.

Unfortunately, LaTourette, who just retired from Congress, wasn’t joined by the majority of his caucus. Only 84 other Republicans in the House, including Nevada’s Rep. Joe Heck, voted for it. The 151 Republicans voting against it included Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy.

Many Republicans were upset because they didn’t get the deep spending cuts they wanted.

House Speaker John Boehner was criticized by members of his caucus for even bringing the bill up for a vote. Former Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert said Boehner had essentially given up his responsibility to govern by letting the bill pass without a Republican majority.

We understand that there are different views about government spending and taxes, but given that Congress backed itself in a corner by failing to resolve the issue, lawmakers had to decide whether they would protect the middle class.

The message the majority of House Republicans sent was that it was willing to put politics above all else, the middle class and economy be damned.

That was evident last week as some Republicans were upset about getting “beat” by President Barack Obama and a group of conservatives refused to vote for Boehner’s re-election as speaker.

That is a bad sign. The nation can’t afford two more years in which Congress is held captive by ugly partisanship and petulant bickering that only hamper the economy’s recovery.

The fiscal cliff deal wasn’t perfect, but it was significantly better than the alternative. Lawmakers shouldn’t let political ideology trump protecting the middle class and the economy. That’s not what they were sent to Washington to do.

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  1. Same Circus. Different Clowns.