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Published December 26 2012

Forum editorial: The edge of the cliff very close

If Congress and the president refuse to come together on a compromise regarding the looming “fiscal cliff,” millions of Americans will see smaller paychecks in January. The Bush-era tax cuts will expire, and income and payroll taxes for every earner will rise. It will be kind of a perverse/reverse belated Christmas gift from a government paralyzed by partisanship and ideology.

Congress and President Barack Obama have only a few days to avoid a leadership failure that will affect the pocketbooks of nearly every family and small business. And make no mistake about it: The immediate negative impact will be on average wage earners and business owners. All the rhetoric about automatic cuts in defense spending and entitlement programs is so much hot air because those programs are funded in advance. They will maintain spending levels for months, even years, even if a budget deal falls through. (One exception is the farm bill stalled in the U.S. House of Representatives, which, if nothing is done, could mean milk prices will rise to $7 a gallon.)

Politically, the president is in the driver’s seat. Every recent poll shows a big majority of Americans will blame Republicans in the House if a compromise is not achieved. Speaker John Boehner, who has tried mightily to forge a deal with the White House, was unable last week to bring his fractious Republican caucus to heel on a plan that he cobbled together. His leadership was tested and found wanting. That episode played into the national sentiment that the small tea party wing of Boehner’s Republican caucus is holding the country hostage – that rational compromise is being blocked because a handful of ideological warriors would rather see the nation slide back into recession than give a little for the common good.

Americans of all persuasions can debate the how and why of the nation’s current dilemma. Good for them. But the focus now must be on getting out. The irony is that every bipartisan commission, committee, think tank or what have you has come to a similar conclusion: This thing is eminently fixable with a rational agenda of spending cuts and revenue enhancements.

The selfish and self-serving ideologues on the left and right should be marginalized, while common sense and the art of compromise are brought to bear on a real economic crisis. The president has to shut down the strident voices on his left, and Boehner has to corral the destructive obstructionists on his right.

Failing that, they fail the nation.

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Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.