Americans would do well to resolve this new year to elect better people to represent them in Washington. The eleventh-hour wrangling to keep the nation from tumbling over the “fiscal cliff” indicates that there is great room for improvement in this regard.
This week, while most sensible people were home spending the holidays with their families, congressional leaders were in Washington, still trying to hammer 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.
Tuesday night, they were able to compromise just enough to serve us a weak stew: In addition to neutralizing middle-class tax increases and spending cuts taking effect with the new year, the legislation will raise tax rates on incomes over $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples. Instead of the sweeping changes both parties promised, the deal was another delaying tactic, one that did little to nothing to address the other half of the equation, long-term spending cuts.
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 totaling 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 it took until this week to get anything done, however weak.