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.
However, the larger issue — how to balance the nation’s budget in the long term and reduce the U.S. debt — remains on the table. The battle of how to do that will surely be intense and wage for months in the halls of Congress.
The Treasury Department says that in less than 60 days, lawmakers must raise the nation’s debt limit, and come up with a plan to ease $1.2 trillion in spending cuts that will be triggered automatically within the next 10 years. Doing so would limit more damage to already injured U.S. economy.
Republicans, still reeling from their poor performance in the November elections, should not cave in and permit major tax increases without some accompanying cuts in spending. Raising taxes without cutting spending accomplishes little more than throwing gasoline on an already raging bonfire.
The sad reality is that Americans will discover in 2013 that these desperate negotiations were largely a sham. Our federal government will continue to spend far more money than it takes in. The only matter subject to debate is just how much more it will spend.
Our national debt now stands at $16.4 trillion. When we greet the arrival of 2014 a year from now, that figure will be higher still as America continues to support its standard of living by mortgaging the future of our grandchildren.
That’s shameful. And it won’t stop until we elect leaders with the political will to make harder, tougher decisions than the current occupants of the halls of Congress.