Let's Pull Back From That Cliff
We don't have to go over that proverbial fiscal cliff. There's still time for a soft landing. Or so says a man who should know.
We're talking about one of North Carolina's most knowledgeable and accomplished sons, Erskine Bowles. In the past, he has held two distinguished jobs - chief of staff to President Bill Clinton and president of the University of North Carolina system. More recently, and more to the point, Democrat Bowles served as co-chairman, along with Republican Alan Simpson, of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.
The Simpson-Bowles Commission, appointed by President Obama, did a good and honorable job, holding exhaustive hearings and issuing a well-balanced and widely praised set of recommendations aimed at getting the deficit under control.
Bowles, writing in The Washington Post, now says a version of that plan can still work.
There's Still Time
As we recently editorialized, Obama made a mistake by not embracing Simpson-Bowles. But so did the Republican leadership in Congress. Both "sides" (why must there always be sides?) were loath to risk going out on a limb if it meant the goring of certain politically sensitive oxen.
Obama and many fellow Democrats couldn't go along with the recommended cuts in social programs, especially at a time when so many lower- and middle-class Americans were already suffering enough. GOP leaders couldn't countenance the proposed reductions in defense spending, not to mention the revenue increases the plan included.
The result, predictably, was deadlock. And out of this political vacuum emerged a last-ditch, worst-case scenario that nobody wanted. These are the extreme spending slashes and tax hikes scheduled to kick in automatically if a more sensible agreement hasn't been worked out by year's end. This is the "cliff" toward which we are now hurtling.
It needn't happen, Bowles assures. There may still be enough time to avoid that fatal plunge.
'Spirit of Good Governance'
"In a way we haven't seen before," Bowles wrote, "both sides will have to move beyond contentious electoral politics and come together in the spirit of good governance to replace the abrupt and mindless spending cuts and tax increases set to take effect Jan. 1 with a gradual and intelligent deficit-reduction plan."
Here's hoping the logjam will break under the dual influences of (1) last week's election results, and (2) the looming deadline.
Many on both sides still seem to be sticking to their guns. Obama has called for a compromise - though, buoyed by his re-election, he has said he will veto any proposal that doesn't include tax increases for the wealthy. Republican House Speaker John Boehner, encouragingly, sounded a somewhat conciliatory note seeming to indicate that all options on spending and taxes are open.
One obvious face-saving compromise would be for the two sides to agree to keep tax rates where they are while raising additional revenue by eliminating various deductions and loopholes that now benefit the wealthy.
If ever there was a time to put national welfare above partisan advantage, this is it. As Bowles wrote, "The only ingredient missing is political will. Betting the country in the hopes of generating that political will is not the answer. Coming together for the greater good is."
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