Fight the fiscal monsters of our own making

By Iowa City Press-Citizen


Last week, the Democratic majority leader and Republican minority leader of the U.S. Senate sat down with their former senatorial colleague, Vice President Joe Biden, and managed to hammer out a last-minute, bi-partisan deal that — although ultimately pleasing to no one — proved an acceptable enough compromise to stop the U.S. from falling over a fiscal cliff.

The legislation was approved by an 89-8 vote in the Senate — with both of Iowa’s senators, Republican Chuck Grassley and Democrat Tom Harkin, voting “no.” And it went on to be approved by the House on a 257-167 vote — with only 85 members of the Republican majority supporting it.

Over the past week, much has been said and written about the failures and shortcomings of this 154-page piece of legislation:

— Grassley called it “a fiscal farce to raise taxes and hurt economic growth.”

— Harkin said it “fails to address our number one priority — creating good, middle class jobs in Iowa and throughout the country.”

— And even supporters — such as Reps. Dave Loebsack, Bruce Braley and Leonard Boswell — dismiss it as “not what I would have preferred” or “far from perfect.”

Yet a majority of lawmakers — along with the president — viewed the legislation as a necessary way to prevent a massive middle-class tax increase and to avoid triggering a host of austere spending cuts to the military and entitlement programs.

Unfortunately, the legislation does nothing to address the constant state of uncertainty that our politics of brinksmanship now thrives upon. As they have done far too often in the past two years, Congress and the president waited until the last minute to vanquish a monster of their own making. And this latest narrowly avoided crisis is soon to be replaced by a series of equally avoidable crises over the next few months, including:

— Whether the nation’s debt ceiling should be raised or whether the county should go into default.

— Whether Congress and the president can come to a long-term agreement before we reach the merely postponed deadline for all those austere spending cuts.

— Whether Congress will approve a continuing resolution to keep the federal government operating.

After the 2011 fight over the debt limit, Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.S. government’s AAA bond rating. The rating agency said the action was necessary because the evaluators feared our political system had become so dysfunctional it never would be able to come up with a workable plan to address the federal government’s deficit and debt.

It seems they were right to worry. Republican leaders already are planning to use the debt-ceiling debate as a way to get significant spending cuts. And Obama already has said he will refuse to bargain over whether Congress will pay its bills.

Something needs to be done to end this self-perpetuating, dysfunctional cycle. Otherwise the continual rush of uncertainty actually will push the nation over a cliff of its own making.


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