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Our View: Approaching ‘fiscal cliff’ with uncertainty

A new year is usually filled with a sense of hope and possibility.

But as Dec. 31 creeps closer, there’s a sense of uncertainty as federal lawmakers continue to bicker about how to best save the country from falling off what has been dubbed the “fiscal cliff.”

Depending on the source, the cliff is a combination of anywhere from $500 billion to $700 billion in federal spending cuts and tax increases that take effect Jan. 1 unless President Barack Obama and House Republicans can reach a compromise.

The tax increases come because of the scheduled expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts and the payroll tax cut enacted in 2010 under Obama, totaling about $400 billion, as well as a number of smaller tax cuts for people and businesses.

The cliff includes $100 billion in automatic federal budget cuts, such as a 9 percent cut in the defense budget, and a reduction of Medicare payments to doctors.

Without a deal, taxes increase. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimates that middle-income earners would see an average increase of about $2,000. Those with higher incomes would pay even more.

It’s not just the personal pocketbooks that will be pinched. The Congressional Budget Office projects that going over the proverbial cliff will mean an economic recession, and an unemployment rate that would rise to more than 9 percent, up from the 7.7 percent it’s at now. States would receive less federal money than expected.

Obama insists that the wealthiest Americans pay more in taxes. Republicans insist the president provide more detail on where he would make cuts. Both sides have fair points.

But rhetoric like Obama’s statement Monday that he “won’t compromise” on his stance is not what the country needs.

The country needs politicians to stop posturing and get down to work. Inflexible allegiances to a political party or ideology has in large part gotten the country into this mess.

Insisting on getting your way is tolerable for a little while for schoolchildren on the playground; it isn’t for elected officials.

It is time for lawmakers to set partisanship and politics aside, and focus on why they are in Washington: To help constituents, and do what is best for the country.

Back in mid-November, Gallup found that 68 percent of Americans wanted Democrats and Republicans to compromise equally to avoid the fiscal cliff. On Dec. 7, Gallup found that 58 percent of Americans say it is “very or somewhat likely” that Obama and congressional leaders will reach a solution before Jan. 1 to avoid the fiscal cliff.

Perhaps the holiday spirit is making citizens more optimistic in lawmakers than they deserve.

The deal that needs to be reached needs to be meaningful reform. Federal spending needs to be reined in. Programs needs to be prioritized. The ramifications of any cuts need to be thought out.

Congress adjourns Dec. 21, and the tax hikes and spending increases go into effect Jan. 1.

But experts note that New Years Day may not be the doomsday scenario some make it out to be — as long as an agreement appears to be on the very near horizon. It will take time before everyday Americans start seeing its effects in their paychecks, and it’s unlikely we’ll wake up Jan. 2 to a crippled economy.

Lawmakers should be working day and night – and through holidays if need be – until an agreement is reached. And if that requires going a few days into 2013 in good faith negotiations, leaders should be given that leeway to do it.

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