CONGRESS avoided the cliff, but it did not get off the mountain. That is the problem.
The mountain is the budget deficit. The country needs to get down the mountain. Last summer, Congress could not agree on the path, so it loudly and publicly aimed toward a cliff in order to scare its members into agreement. Congress reached the cliff and agreed on a small descent only.
This stopgap budget deal beats jumping off, but it was a gutless and dishonorable performance.
Congress did agree to let the 2 percentage-point cut in Social Security taxes expire, raising the withholding tax on American workers. This will be painful, but the cut was never meant to be permanent. Social Security needs the money.
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Congress also raised income taxes on high earners by limiting itemized deductions for joint returns above $300,000, and raising capital-gains, dividend and ordinary income rates on joint returns above $450,000. These were reasonable things, but they amount only to a few steps down the mountain of federal deficit.
Congress did nothing to slow the budget’s biggest element: entitlement spending. The Republicans who raised this point are right. Slight changes can make a big difference.
A “chained” Consumer Price Index in Social Security, for example, would make future raises slightly lower. At one point, President Obama put that on the table, then took it off.
Another reform is to raise the retirement age, starting several decades out. It wasn’t done.
Military spending needs to come down, starting with overseas commitments. Farm subsidies need to be reviewed. Neither was done.
Horse-trading at the 11th hour never makes sense. When Congress set a course to the fiscal cliff, the precipice was months away. The idea was that members would use those months to make hard decisions. They didn’t. They were partisan.
The president was partisan, and also aloof. The whole episode shows a lack of leadership, starting at the White House and in both houses.
Congress reached the cliff and declined to jump off. A dog would have had as much sense. Lawmakers are still on the mountain, and they need to agree on a way down.