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In our opinion: Washington needs to tackle the real issues

Published: Thursday, Oct. 10 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Despite the posturing over health care and the risks of a credit default, the real issues begging to be addressed are those relevant to the nation’s longer-term economic stability.

Alex Brandon, Associated Press

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There is growing talk of efforts to break the impasse in Washington by forging a “grand bargain” in the form of an agreement to finally tackle the government’s overall debt problem, including an approach to tax and entitlement reform.

Such a resolution would be the best outcome the nation could hope for.

Despite the posturing over health care and the risks of a credit default, the real issues begging to be addressed are those relevant to the nation’s longer-term economic stability. How to control the deficit, manage entitlements and deal with a cumbersome tax code have long underlined the ideological tug of war that has led us to this deadlock.

The reality is that the nation simply can’t afford to continue in a state of perpetual inaction, save for arbitrary measures like the so-called sequestration, which resulted from the last exercise in brinkmanship over the debt ceiling.

Neither side of the partisan divide has recently demonstrated a sincere willingness to take on those larger issues in a serious fashion. Now, an informal coalition of House members from both sides of the aisle is said to be working on a framework to leverage them as a way to end both the government shutdown and the impasse on the debt ceiling.

Given the venomous nature of the discourse we have seen in recent days, the odds would seem to be stacked against them. But there is considerable reason to wish them success as the nation creeps closer to a place where no responsible citizen of any stripe would like to see it end up, with a government virtually incapacitated and diminished.

The depth of the divide that has led to the current stalemate seems almost impossible to bridge, and it will take an unforeseen breakthrough to end it. Whether such a breakthrough comes sooner or later, it’s not likely to come from the radical quarters of either party.

It is the nature of politics that compromise comes from the middle, and for the most part, those with the most extreme views have so far dominated the discussion. It is time that leadership in the White House, Senate and House opens up the playing field to those who would pursue ways to break the gridlock and bargain a lasting agreement.

That means those leaders will have to face up to the political risks inherent in moving away from their respective corners. Democrats have said they won’t negotiate until the government is funded and the debt ceiling is raised. Republicans are making hay over the Democrats’ refusal to negotiate, but in fairness, Republicans have not laid down terms for any reasonable negotiation other than to demand concessions. It’s difficult at this point to see how either party can claim the moral high ground.

Short of the next election cycle, there is no mechanism to gauge winners and losers, but we can be certain of one thing — if the failure to act results in severe pain to the economy or to the nation’s ability to pay its debts, both sides will have clearly lost.

An approach that contemplates a larger strategy of addressing future spending with an eye toward debt reduction and entitlement reform is a welcome development. Americans are understandably frustrated by the current state of affairs. To them, any strategy that can end the deadlock — and concomitantly lead to fruitful negotiations on the larger issues — is a true bargain.

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