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Published January 02 2013

Forum editorial: More cliffs just ahead in Congress

Americans should be relieved, but not overjoyed, by eleventh-hour action in the U.S. House of Representatives that cleared legislation to prevent the income taxes of millions of wage earners and small businesses from rising. By the way, the payroll tax holiday, which expired at the end of the year, was not renewed, so paychecks will be a little smaller.

House members, most notably members of the Republican caucus, dilly-dallied and postured until the fiscal cliff deadline passed at midnight Dec. 31. Part of the losing strategy was to give them cover. The scheme was that since the Bush-era tax cuts expired and taxes legally went up, Republicans were technically voting to lower taxes. What a cynical stunt. They were fooling no one of even modest intelligence.

Fact is, Republicans who voted for the package (the House vote was 257-167 – 217 were needed for passage) did not want to get tagged with causing paychecks to be smaller in January, which is what would have happened. Every poll clearly showed a majority of Americans would have blamed Republicans, not the White House, for failure to avoid that aspect of the cliff.

That being said, there are more cliffs just down the legislative road. The bill, which was passed by Congress, and will be signed by the president, does nothing to address spending cuts and revenue enhancements. The big problems, including entitlement changes and comprehensive tax reform, were shunted aside so Congress could, at least, clear the tax package, which also includes extension of unemployment benefits and preserves higher Medicare reimbursements for doctors.

The 113th Congress will be sworn in today. Its agenda is daunting, to say the least. What was left undone by the monumentally unproductive and dysfunctional 112th will have to be tackled by the 113th. Failure to do so will only extend economic uncertainty that translates into a slowing recovery and reluctance of businesses to invest and hire. And then, of course, there are the unknown economic traumas of the president’s Affordable Care Act, more provisions of which click in this year and next.

The bipartisan votes in the Senate and House on the fiscal cliff tax bill offered a glimmer of hope. Few members of Congress liked everything in the legislation, but a majority seemed to have understood that getting the tax matter settled was the right thing to do – for now. Given the record, that’s progress.

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

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