As negotiations plod on in an attempt to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff" of tax hikes and spending cuts that may plunge the nation into another recession early next year, both parties would be wise to address pressing political and mathematical realities.
Start with the math. Arithmetically speaking, no serious progress can be made toward balancing the budget and tackling the nation's colossal debt without reforming entitlement programs, especially Medicare. There is no tax rate high enough, no discretionary spending cut deep enough, and no accounting gimmick potent enough to provide sufficient revenue to compensate for the exponential growth of the federal government's projected mandatory spending. This is a reality that neither party seems willing or able to address.
President Obama's latest proposal is heavy on new taxes and depressingly light and empty with regard to spending cuts. The tax increases would take effect immediately, but all entitlement reforms are postponed for a decade or more, giving future congresses and future presidents plenty of opportunities to undo them. Obama, now elected to his final term, ought to take this opportunity to provide real leadership on an intractable issue, yet he is inexcusably kicking the can down the road.
That's not to say, however, that the Republicans are blameless in this battle. The election results demonstrated that voters support the president's proposal to allow the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans to expire. Yet too many Republicans, including all four members of the GOP in Utah's congressional delegation, refuse to consider any tax increases at all, effectively walking away from the negotiating table and cruising toward the cliff.
While they revel in their ideological purity, their constituents will watch their tax bills increase by an average of $2,000 or more come the new year.
In the meantime, the president will rightly attribute the collapse of negotiations to the Republican unwillingness to compromise. Republicans would then be compounding a devastating electoral defeat with a fresh political disaster. Surely they recognize that a workable agreement is in their own political interests, not to mention the best interests of the nation as a whole.
The most frustrating thing about this current standoff is how absurdly unnecessary it is. That's especially true given that both sides know the answers. The math can't be denied, while the politics of the situation demand compromise. No elected official of any party can be excused for ignoring these realities.