• Slipper slope
    December 28,2012

    If most of us were to find ourselves facing an extremely serious personal financial situation, we would surely focus our minds, with great intensity, on finding a satisfactory solution. And the sooner the better.

    It doesn’t always work that way with our elected representatives, however, and if Americans are beginning to suspect that part of the reason may be that to some of these politicians it is far more important that their party prevail over its rivals than that the problem gets solved, who’s to blame them?

    Think about this: Almost nothing either side of the debate has offered so far in their search for a safe path away from the so-called fiscal cliff has been treated with respect by the other side. Is it surprising if ordinary citizens therefore continue to feel little reason to admire their leaders in Washington?

    And here’s the rub: Last month, the American people handed President Barack Obama a second term, giving him what should be the upper hand in negotiating a solution to the fiscal cliff issue. Moreover, Democrats have a majority in the Senate and — here’s a fact that’s not so obvious — they actually won more total votes than Republicans in the House. Because of the uneven way House districts are drawn, however, the GOP holds a majority of the seats in the lower chamber.

    The bottom line is that Democrats clearly did better than the Republicans in the November elections, suggesting that the American people are generally supportive of Democratic policies, and yet it is the Republicans who are negotiating as if they had won. Sometimes they act as if their idea of “compromise” is that the president must accept their ideas rather than his own. He’s not likely to do so.

    Most of us are not sufficiently interested in or informed about the many nuances and subtleties of a fiscal debate that is nevertheless hugely important to our nation’s — and, ultimately, our own personal — immediate future. We may read the headlines, or catch the evening news on television, and then go about our own business, which is understandably more relevant.

    But this particular debate is made all the more confounding and more frustrating than most because to those who genuinely want a fair and feasible solution to the pending crisis the most aggravating roadblock is the one thrown up by a dogmatic conservative minority in the House. Speaker John Boehner may irritate many of us — certainly he seems to annoy all Democrats — with his almost snide comments about the president’s alleged unwillingness to accept his and his party’s demands, but compared to the tea party element in the House Boehner appears a model of reasonableness.

    Because Boehner couldn’t control the House, the focus in Washington shifted to the Senate, but as of yesterday, the majority and minority leaders, Sens. Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, had yet to get together to search for a solution.

    Meanwhile, the White House reportedly was working with Reid on a proposal to let taxes rise on households with incomes exceeding $250,000. And there were reports that it would also protect millions of middle-class Americans from having to pay the costly alternative minimum tax and, critically, would continue benefits for the 2 million unemployed workers facing a cutoff next month. The White House plan would also delay deep spending cuts at federal agencies, including the Pentagon, next month.

    But unless Republicans concede that Obama has earned the superior position in this debate, the fiscal cliff can’t be dodged. And then the blame game really begins.

    More opinions on A8.

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