Well, at least Congress averted the fiscal cliff. That’s good.
But it also averted serious attempts to reduce debt, such as reforming entitlement programs.
So while it was encouraging that a majority of lawmakers were willing to compromise, they kicked several crucial issues down the road again. And if they couldn’t seize this opportunity to make difficult decisions, when will they?
The House approved a Senate agreement Tuesday that kept the Bush-era tax cuts in place for everyone except individuals making more than $400,000 a year and households earning more than $450,000. It also postponed spending cuts for two months, allowed the temporary payroll-tax cut to expire, extended unemployment benefits and the farm bill, and prevented sharp cuts in Medicare reimbursements.
The agreement required some significant compromises.
President Obama won re-election pledging to raise taxes on those making $250,000 or more a year, but he agreed to increase that threshold. A number of Republicans who pledged to never raise taxes went along with the deal because it was better than going over the cliff and having everyone’s taxes increase.
But the deal also avoided or postponed needed reforms.
It doesn’t include any changes to Medicare and Social Security, the main drivers of the nation’s long-term debt problems. And the decisions to postpone the automatic budget cuts and not extend the debt ceiling merely mean that there will be another protracted fight next month.
Not surprisingly, few people are cheering the deal, and many are criticizing it.
Liberal groups are blasting Obama for compromising too much, particularly on taxes. Conservative groups are upset that lawmakers agreed to raise taxes without significant cuts to spending.
The vote also divided the Kansas delegation. Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran took the pragmatic approach that the compromise was better than nothing. “While this deal is not the comprehensive solution I was seeking to America’s debt crisis, delay or inaction on taxes would have only harmed our economy, damaged retirement savings and penalized Kansans of all ages,” Roberts said in a statement.
But all four House members voted against the deal. “I cannot support it without amendment,” Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, said in a statement, citing the delay in spending cuts and “more crony capitalism.”
The agreement also does little to boost public confidence in Congress’ ability to get the nation’s finances in order.
As Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, co-chairmen of Obama’s deficit-reduction commission, said in a statement: “We have all known for over a year that this fiscal cliff was coming.… Yet even after taking the country to the brink of economic disaster, Washington still could not forge a commonsense bipartisan consensus on a plan that stabilizes the debt.”
It’s not a promising start to the new year.
For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee