If it were left to President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, Americans might have ample reason for confidence that the “fiscal cliff’ would fade into history when the new year arrives.
But it isn’t up to them. Even after the president and speaker come to terms — assuming they do — the president will have to persuade congressional Democrats to support their agreement, and Rep. Boehner will have to bring fellow House Republicans.
Yes, both parties contain reasonable members who recognize the folly of tempting fate by refusing to agree to a budget deal that’s acceptable if not perfect. But both parties also contain extremists who seem inclined to fall on their sword, even if it injures others as well.
Some Democrats, for instance, want nothing to do with raising the eligibility age for Medicare or other reforms. The long-term reluctance to confront entitlements such as Medicare has only complicated ultimate reform. The eligibility age is far from the only adjustment necessary to ensure the integrity of Medicare, but it would be an important step.
Some Republicans — and not just tea partiers — dig in their heels at raising tax rates, no matter the inequity in the present rates. Some are appalled that Rep. Boehner has agreed to raise tax rates on millionaires, which is an important gesture but one that doesn’t go far enough. Conservatives might well be apoplectic if he moved closer to the president’s counterproposal of a $400,000 threshold.
There is vastly more to the arrangement Rep. Boehner and President Obama are trying to hammer out, and it’s wrong to underestimate their own disagreements. Among those is whether to tie raising the debt ceiling to the budget agreement and the way the two sides factor the consumer price index into their talks.
The CPI is important because if the two sides are to agree on a balance of revenue increases and spending cuts — which seems vital — they also must agree on how those increases and cuts ought to be calculated. At present, they don’t.
Indications that the two leaders are actually negotiating instead of posturing is clearly good news, but it’s also apparent that they have much work to do — in addition to protecting the progress they’ve made thus far.
Despite the multiple disappointments largely attributable to excessive partisanship by both sides that have led to this crisis, these two leaders — indeed, all of our elected officials — must at this late hour come to terms for the greater good.
We hope, and pray, that they’re up to the task.