Neither side in the “fiscal cliff” negotiations in Congress has a mandate from the American people to push the other over the edge.
The people did re-elect Barack Obama president and kept Democrats in control of the Senate. At the same time, they also kept Republicans firmly in control of the House of Representatives, which is the only house that can originate a tax bill. To make a deal, both sides have to give.
And a deal is imperative. Trillion-dollar deficits are not sustainable, no matter how eager the world’s holders of capital are willing to lend our government the money.
Shrinking the deficit cannot wait until full employment, because it has been five years since the beginning of the recession and no one knows when full employment will arrive. Closing the deficit has to begin now, and with more than just a few billions here and there.
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Most of last week the two sides were talking about what they would not give. The president would not have a deal without higher tax rates on the rich. He was sure of that. Republican leaders would not raise tax rates. Congressional Democrats would not touch entitlements.
None of this was constructive. A trillion-dollar gap is far too wide to be closed by any one thing.
After Friday’s meeting, the two sides sounded more reasonable. House Speaker John Boehner said the Republicans would accept some revenue if there were also cuts in spending. Revenue should be on the table, and not only revenue from loophole closings.
So should military spending, starting with the war in Afghanistan. So should entitlements: Washington’s U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, who is expected to be the chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee, needs to accept that.
President Obama kept saying he wants a balanced approach. That is right. These are not all-or-nothing questions, about principle. These are “how much” questions, about money. And money is divisible.