A fiscal cliff compromise is needed to avoid ‘train wreck’
The media resounds with accusations and condemnations relating to the failure to achieve the necessary agreements to avert what has been referred to as the “fiscal cliff.”
However, the underlying reasons for this failure require attention and have largely been ignored. The roots of the problem arise long before the advent of the year end deadline. There were two antecedent enactments that presented the focus on 2012 year end.
In 2002 and 2003 during the George W. Bush presidency there were enacted the so-called Bush tax cuts. Only rarely should tax measures have a finite life. It is vital for personal and business planning that there be stability in the tax rates and terms that affect the taxpayers. However, as a result of partisan politics, our Congress determined that the these tax cuts would expire on Dec. 31, 2012. To compound the problem, when Congressional agreement could not be attained as to spending cuts, Congress kicked the can down the road and enacted a Draconian measure somewhat based on the findings of the Simpson–Bowles Commission that specified that arbitrary spending cuts be made effective Dec. 31, 2012, as the Bush tax cuts expired. It was the stated expectation that prior to this deadline some coming together of the Congress and the president would occur, which that would allow the “fiscal cliff” enactment to be replaced.
The federal government designed in our Constitution contemplates that all legislative powers are vested in Congress.
These powers are enumerated at length and include those to lay and collect taxes and to pay debts and to borrow money. The presidential powers specified in the Constitution are quite limited.
The methodology used to attempt to avert the “fiscal cliff” did not conform to the precepts set forth in the constitution. While President Obama may well be considered to be chosen as the leader of the people and quite clearly is the leader of the Democrat party, House Speaker Boehner has not been so chosen and indeed cannot even be said to be the leader of the Republican party.
Both the president and the Republican majority in the House believe that they were elected to carry out the principles on which they campaigned. It could not reasonably be expected that negotiations, essentially limited to the two, could, under the circumstances, achieve resolution of the thorny issues being considered.
It is time to operate as the Constitution provides for all legislative matters. Require that the two Houses of Congress work to enact one or more pieces of legislation to deal with the tax and spending issues, which require attention and then submit their product to the president for approval or veto.
From my perspective the greatest hurdle to a resolution following constitutional concepts is the Senate. The House has already passed several bills.
These bills should be debated in the Senate, amended as the Senate may deem appropriate and then submitted to conference between the two legislative branches.
But the Senate has, in defiance of the practice regularly followed since the inception of our country, simply refused to take up the House bills or to originate any bills of its own on the subjects involved. I find this an inexcusable breakdown of governmental responsibility.
It is to be recognized that there are some fundamental differences in the views of the Republicans and the Democrats on the matters at hand. But it is not in the best interests or our nation or its people that government shall cease to function because of disputes.
It is acknowledged by nearly all our country cannot continue on its deficit ridden path and that to allow the existing legislation to become and remain in effect would be highly damaging to our national economy. But to date the people serving in our legislative branches have failed to accept the imperative that the national welfare demands that it supersede partisan preferences.
Compromise has become a dirty word, but its use is essential to avoid a national train wreck.
It is doubtful that Congress will act until its members realize that the public demands it. It is urgent that responsible citizens make it clearly known to their representatives that they must devote thoughtful attention to the issues presented and achieve agreement on a path that will enhance our nation’s future prospects and restore financial integrity to our government.
Here are some guidelines to observe as to the task that lies ahead. We should:
1. Avoid blaming anyone for the situation we are in, instead we should applaud those who reach solutions.
2. Recognize that the current annual deficit is about $1.3 trillion, and discourage short term fixes, interim and partial measures and instead encourage thoughtful resolutions serving our long-term interests.
3. Remember that our children and grandchildren are the real beneficiaries of any comprehensive deficit reduction program and be prepared to accept some current sacrifice.
The problems are vast. We cannot prosper if partisan differences block meaningful resolutions of the issues being presented.
• Walter Lewis is a resident of Princeville and writes a biweekly column for The Garden Island.