Cliff-hanger shows 
Washington’s failure

Monday afternoon, political leaders said they had the framework of a bipartisan compromise designed to prevent the nation from tumbling over the fiscal cliff. But it wasn’t clear whether the measure would receive enough votes in either chamber of Congress to pass.

However, by this week, Monday’s deadline for avoiding the cliff was almost irrelevant, at least so far as congressional and White House responsibility were concerned.

After all, it’s been nearly 1 1/2 years since Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed the 2011 budget act that set many of the conditions for the fiscal cliff. And the pending expiration of the Bush tax cuts, which also contributes to the cliff, has been well known for a decade.

Whether or not a last-minute agreement is reached to avoid the cliff — or we begin to fall over it today, facing large spending cuts and higher taxes for everyone — there is no excuse for this critical issue coming down to an eleventh-hour compromise. To make matters worse, that compromise was negotiated by a handful of people, then will be plopped on the Senate and House podiums to be voted on by members who will have had only a superficial understanding of what it contains.

A real plan to avoid the cliff should have been introduced, debated and voted on long ago.

We realize that both the Senate and the House approved vastly different plans related to the budget and taxes earlier this year. But they were both highly partisan pieces of legislation, designed to make political points, not enact public policy. Neither chamber debated the other’s plan, proposed amendments to it or sent a modified plan to a conference committee to work out differences. And the only budget Obama put forth — prior to the compromise he offered just before Christmas — was so unrealistic it didn’t receive single vote in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Many people will rightly blame the fringes of both parties for stonewalling repeated attempts at reaching compromise, and they certainly deserve condemnation. But save some frustration for the centrists in both parties, as well, not because they were intractable in their demands — they weren’t ­— but because they remained too long on the sidelines and ceded too much of the debate to the extremes.

We have long supported people such as our two Colorado senators, Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, and others like them, who have repeatedly argued for a middle-ground approach to solving our budget problems.

But why didn’t a group of like-minded centrists put forth its own proposal long ago and demand the leadership of both parties allow a vote on it? Where was the politician courageous enough to actually introduce the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction plan?

A compromise may be arrived at this week. But it won’t eliminate the failure of so many in Washington to act in a timely, responsible manner.


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