January 2, 2013

Analysis: 'Cliff' deal is another pain-free punt

The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., right, the Republican Conference Chair, arrive at the House of Representatives for the final vote on emergency legislation to avoid a national "fiscal cliff" at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

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AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka praised elements of the deal. But he said that in postponing $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years, and leaving the debt ceiling unresolved, it is "setting the stage for more fiscal blackmail."

To be sure, Obama and House Speaker John Boehner flirted at times with a "grand bargain" that would include much larger tax increases and spending cuts than those in the newly enacted law. And high-profile groups such as the Simpson-Bowles commission also recommended tough combinations of tax hikes and spending cuts, calling them necessary even if politically unpopular.

These ideas went nowhere.

Less than 12 hours after the House's New Year's Day vote for the fiscal compromise, renewed demands for deficit spending dominated the Capitol. Democrats and Republicans from New York and New Jersey blasted Boehner for delaying legislation that would provide $27 billion to $60 billion in federal aid to victims of Hurricane Sandy. The sums would be added to the deficit.

It's easy to defend using public money to help Americans walloped by a vicious storm. And that's the heart of the government's inability, or unwillingness, to restrain its borrowing ways.

Every federal dollar, and every federal program, has avid supporters who can defend their functions. And every sector can explain why higher taxes would burden struggling people at the lower end, and "job creators" at the higher end.

High levels of government service. Low levels of taxation. Big deficits to make up the difference. That's what Americans have demanded and gotten from their federal government for years.

The agreement by Obama and Congress to spare Americans the pain of a fiscal is right in line with that tradition.

 

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