Our View

Missing from the election: the ‘fiscal cliff’

By From page A4 | October 30, 2012

The issue: Lame-duck congressional session is unlikely to tackle the problem

A pressing question that the voters need — indeed, deserve — answered is how both parties will deal with the “fiscal cliff.” Frankly, the range of answers is so unpleasant that President Barack Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney would be foolish to answer before the election.

THE ELECTION ADS are full of earnest voters saying they want straight talk and straight answers. They really don’t. The politicians talk about “hard choices.” They are hard and the politicians really don’t want to make them.

Much depends on the outcome of the election. It’s possible that during the post-election legislative session, many of these problems will be solved. But unless the lame-duck session is magically transformed into a Golden Age of Athenian democracy, they probably won’t be.

On midnight, Dec. 31 the Bush era tax cuts expire in their entirety, greatly helping the deficit but at a cost of billions to the taxpayers and raising the prospect of a renewed recession. The Republicans want them extended for everybody, including millionaires. If Obama is defeated, he just might balk and let the whole package expire, even vetoing it if Congress decides otherwise.

Assuming the Republicans start the new year with a majority in both houses, the Democrats might adopt the GOP’s tactics of the last four years and devote themselves to thwarting or derailing each of Romney’s legislative initiatives.

Then 12 days after Congress returns after the start of the year — and Obama is still president until Jan. 20 — billions are to be slashed automatically across-the-board in the federal budget, including what the Pentagon says will be ruinous cuts in defense spending.

BARRING AN agreement, these cuts are to go on for another nine years, solving the deficit crisis but wrecking the economy in the process. President Romney and the Republicans will be left to sift through the wreckage they’ve created while explaining to the public that they can’t make good on any of their economic promises. The arithmetic just doesn’t add up.

Another alternative is that the voters will return a president newly ready to get his hands dirty in the messy business of legislation.

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