As far as we know, no overwrought conservatives have jumped off literal cliffs over President Barack Obama’s re-election. But regardless of political persuasion, all Americans face the rising risk of our nation’s economy plummeting off the figurative “fiscal cliff.”
The analogy is grimly fitting: The 2011 Budget Control Act is scheduled to expire at year’s end. If Congress doesn’t replace it with another debt-ceiling compromise, and the president doesn’t sign that accord, automatic spending cuts — and tax hikes — of large scales would be implemented with devastating effects.
And despite continuing debate over fiscal policy, experts on both sides of that dispute agree that a failure to strike a new debt agreement would push America’s already-shaky economy over the edge — hence the chilling term “fiscal cliff.”
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that with the election over, the political powers that be in Washington should find it easier to cut a bipartisan deal.
Though Republicans kept control of the House, Speaker John Boehner sounded a conciliatory tone Wednesday, saying: “Mr. President, this is your moment. We’re ready to be led, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans.”
He added: “We want you to succeed.”
And though the speaker added that Republicans still oppose the president’s proposed tax hikes on incomes over $250,000, he added that the party is open to “increased revenue” from “a growing economy, energized by a simpler, cleaner, fairer tax code, with fewer loopholes, and lower rates for all.”
White House political adviser David Axelrod fairly countered Thursday by citing Tuesday’s ballot-box outcomes. Democrats didn’t just retain the presidency. They strengthened their hold on the Senate and gained ground in, though not control of, the House.
As Mr. Axelrod put it: “Hopefully people will read those results and read them as a vote for cooperation and will come to the table. And obviously everyone’s going to have to come with an open mind to these discussions.”
Too bad Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s mind remains closed to Speaker Boehner’s call for overdue entitlement reform as part of the debt negotiations. Sen. Reid vowed Wednesday: “We’re not going to mess with Social Security.”
Yet while that long-term problem will again be dodged, lawmakers still must find a short-term rescue from the fiscal cliff.
Yes, elected officials, and all Americans, should continue the defining ideological arguments about how we can finally start bringing federal books back into sustainable balance.
Yes, hard feelings linger on both sides about how last year’s “grand bargain” on the debt ceiling broke down.
At this high-stakes point, however, the U.S. is less than eight weeks from a self-imposed, bottom-line disaster.
That demands a sense of urgency — and compromise — by both parties to put the federal government back on solid financial ground, even if it’s just a temporary fix.
Otherwise, America’s economy will fall off that dreaded fiscal cliff — and take lots of jobs with it.