NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

January 3, 2013

'Fiscal cliff' gave glimpse of our financial troubles

Americans would do well to resolve this new year to elect better people to represent them in Washington. The 11th hour wrangling to keep the nation from tumbling over the “fiscal cliff” indicates there is great room for improvement in this regard.

On New Year’s Eve, while most sensible people were home with their families, congressional leaders were in Washington, still trying to hammer out at the last minute a compromise they’ve had more than a year to engineer.

Not that there was anything important at stake — just a major hit to taxpayers’ wallets, the health of an already sickly economy and the fiscal solvency of the nation.

At the end of July 2011, Congress and President Obama agreed to a deal to raise the federal debt ceiling and keep the United States from an unprecedented default on debt obligations. The major part of the deal was that, unless Congress could agree to some compromise on tax revenues and government spending by the start of 2013, automatic, across-the-board spending cuts totalling about $1.5 trillion would hit at the same time as the Bush-era tax cuts, the Obama payroll tax cut and other tax breaks and credits expired.

This threat hanging over their heads was supposed to be enough to get members of Congress to act and get the growth of the federal debt under control. The deadline was supposed to be something that gave the two sides time to come to a compromise. Instead, it was all left to the last minute, a mad scramble to patch together a plan.

Has a more irresponsible group of people ever had greater power over the fate of a nation? Has a group of political leaders ever failed more miserably to perform its most basic duties?

Yesterday, the final pieces of an agreement were stamped into place. It called for tax cuts for people earning under $400,000, plus some other measures to increase taxes on the rich. Even so, the basic problem — that our nation is spending itself into a debt that will eventually bankrupt us — has not been solved. Congress didn’t even take a stab at trying to rein in spending; instead, it deferred it for another few months.

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