This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.
Talk about setting the bar low. Congressional leaders are congratulating themselves for canceling a disaster they scheduled themselves. In fact, they didn’t even cancel it – they just rescheduled it.
Such is the absence of statesmanship revealed by the pathetic deal that averted the so-called fiscal cliff.
Much of the cliff – a set of mindless spending cuts set to take effect on New Year’s Day – had been engineered by Congress itself last year to force bipartisan agreement on a rational fiscal alternative. The sequestration plan was so bad, the thinking went, that it would terrify both Republicans and Democrats into doing something helpful.
No such luck. Sequestration turned into a game of chicken, with people in each party looking for a way to stick the blame on the other if the scheme’s failure spooked the markets. A slew of expiring tax breaks raised the stakes further: Most taxpayers stood to lose thousands of dollars without congressional action, sucking life out of an economy chiefly driven by consumer spending.
The slapdash misery of a deal that ultimately postponed the reckoning is no credit to anyone.
It gives the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans a haircut, ratcheting up their highest tax rate from 35 to 39.6 percent. That will produce some revenue, but – contrary to populist rhetoric – it isn’t remotely enough to patch Congress’ ruinous $1 trillion deficits.
Now that Democrats have scored their victory over people earning more than $400,000 – the political easy pickings – heaven help them if they suggest more Americans ought to pitch in for the sake of national solvency.
The deal also does nothing to curtail unsustainable entitlement spending; it again shows that Congress, collectively, can’t bring itself to require sacrifices from America’s middle class.
No one is pretending that this is a solution; leaders declared it an achievement merely because wasn’t a disaster. Sequestration wasn’t repealed; it was put off a couple months. The Republican House still plans to use the statutory debt limit as a nuclear weapon in budget negotiations, as it did in 2011.
What’s especially discouraging is the timing.
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