Americans would do well to resolve this new year to elect better people to represent them in Washington. The 11th hour wrangling to keep the nation from tumbling over the “fiscal cliff” indicates there is great room for improvement in this regard.
While most sensible people were home with their families for New Year’s Eve, congressional leaders were in Washington, hammering out at the last minute a compromise they’ve had more than a year to engineer.
Not that there was anything important at stake — just a major hit to taxpayers’ wallets, the health of an already sickly economy and the fiscal solvency of the nation.
At the end of July 2011, Congress and President Obama agreed to a deal to raise the federal debt ceiling and keep the United States from an unprecedented default on debt obligations. The major part of the deal was that, unless Congress could agree to some compromise on tax revenues and government spending by the start of 2013, automatic, across-the-board spending cuts totalling about $1.5 trillion would hit at the same time as the Bush-era tax cuts, the Obama payroll tax cut and other tax breaks and credits expired.
This threat hanging over their heads was supposed to be enough to get members of Congress to act and get the growth of the federal debt under control. Yet there we were, the evening of Dec. 31, and still there was no deal.
Has a more irresponsible group of people ever had greater power over the fate of a nation? Has a group of political leaders ever failed more miserably to perform its most basic duties?
Congress reached a deal of sorts on New Year’s Day. It extended tax breaks for the middle class and postponed federal spending cuts, but it did not continue a cut in payroll taxes, a move that means workers making $20,000 to $30,000, many living paycheck to paycheck, will bring home about $300 a year less.