Although it didn’t attract much attention, the pace of government in Washington slowed to a crawl over the past year. Important regulations were stalled, decisions were deferred and pressing issues were held in abeyance or neglected by President Obama and Congress, largely out of a desire to avoid political risk. The president set the tone by focusing in a singular fashion on his re-election campaign. Now he, lawmakers and regulators have a torrent of decisions to make, many of them postponed for too long.

By far the most important is repairing the financial health of the nation. The fiscal cliff isn’t an object of nature; it was created to force Congress to make some painful decisions, which Congress nonetheless managed to avoid.

Today, the nation urgently needs an intelligent and bipartisan deal to avert the crude, automatic cuts and tax increases that loom without action.

The uncertainty is a heavy albatross for a weak economy. Resolving it would be a tonic — and is the only responsible course. In recent months, the White House bottled up or slow-walked a host of pending rules, fearful of the GOP’s battle cry of “job-killing regulations.” Many of them may be debatable, but it is time to get the machinery of government working again, and to have the debate.

According to the National Journal, the Environmental Protection Agency has been sitting on a dozen major regulations. These include rules to curb ozone emissions from coal plants. In 2011, the president signed the Food Safety Modernization Act, the most ambitious overhaul of the nation’s food safety system since the 1930s, which Congress approved with broad bipartisan support and industry backing. But the rules to implement it have been held up by the Office of Management and Budget for nearly a year. As Ronald Reagan aptly put it once, it’s time to put the work shoes on.