Editorial: Hold the applause

  • Posted: Thursday, January 3, 2013 12:01 a.m.

As the president and members of Congress bask in their post-cliff-avoidance euphoria and consider whether Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell should be considered for political sainthood, pardon us for not being in a celebratory mood.

Yes, the last-second “fiscal cliff” compromise was better than the alternative. We can breathe a sigh of relief that we’ve now managed to avoid two end-of-the-year apocalypses. But just as Congress doesn’t get any credit because the world didn’t end on Dec. 21, it doesn’t deserve any attaboys for this latest detour around potential disaster.

Let’s remember how we got here. As a result of its inability to agree on a viable deficit-reduction package, Congress stocked its medicine cabinet with the poison pill known as sequestration, the combination of tax increases and spending cuts that would have sent us over the fiscal cliff — or at least launched us into an uncharted chasm. The theory was that the looming sequestion mechanism would force Congress and the president to work together on longterm policies to lower debt, reform unsustainable entitlement programs and put the nation on a sane economic path for the future. In other words, it would force them to govern.

That was the theory. This was the reality: After holding the poison pill on its tongue until the last minute of the last hour of the last day, Congress spit it out (temporarily) and instead swallowed a bon-bon or two — and now we’re supposed to act as if something has been accomplished?

That’s like congratulating a drunk driver who pulls over to the side of the road so that he can safely answer his cell phone — before pulling right back onto the road.

From the perspective of longterm solvency, it’s hard to see any real winners here, unless it’s the makers of Maalox and Xanax. In effect, we’ve just added a few more minutes to the game clock.

Actually, you might be a winner if you’re planning to build a NASCAR racetrack or manufacture plug-in electric scooters or trikes (to mention only two of the fascinating tax breaks buried in this bill). Oh, yes, there’s another measure that cracks down on fraudulent tax returns filed by state and federal inmates. Now there’s a take-no-prisoners approach to deficit reduction.

Pardon our pique, but two days ago, a crisis-weary citizenry was basically being held hostage to political paralysis and dysfunction. That’s still the case. We’ve just gotten a temporary reprieve from the blindfold and wrist restraints. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’ll crank up the bulldozer and begin grading. That racetrack tax break is looking better by the minute.

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