Partisan divides clear in wrangle over fiscal cliff

When Barack Obama was first inaugurated as president in 2009, post-partisanship was the buzzword. But if the 2012 election did not quash the dream of politicians working together for the good of the country, the last-minute negotiations to save the country from the so-called fiscal cliff surely did.

Bickering lawmakers created this disaster in the first place. Not surprisingly, they also failed to resolve the underlying issues when heading off — at least for a little while — its painful economic effects.

Lawmakers brought us to the edge of the fiscal cliff by postponing decisions on key issues such as whether to let the Bush-era tax cuts expire.

Both parties devised an improvised explosive device of outcomes the other side seemingly couldn’t live with — from cuts to military spending to cuts to social programs — and then set its alarm to go off Jan. 1, 2013.

Logic had it that this combination of cuts and tax increases would force lawmakers to act in a post-partisan manner. But in the days and hours leading up to the new year, lawmakers from both parties appeared resolutely determined to plunge the country over a cliff that would affect nearly every person in America. Many would have seen their taxes increase, while others could have had their government assistance programs cut.

Then late on New Year’s Eve, the Senate approved a deal to avoid the cliff. The House of Representatives was expected to take up the issue late Tuesday or early today. But Americans will lose no matter which way the House votes on this issue.

For too long, the talk in Washington, D.C., has reduced the American people to bland labels: taxpayer, entrepreneur, aid recipient. Behind all of those labels lie real people with real needs. Raising taxes on people has real-world effects, as does cutting spending on social programs that help people and families put food on their tables.

Somewhere along the way, our politicians lost sight of the real people behind these issues. The fight over taxes devolved into bickering about taxing the wealthy or the moderately wealthy. Nowhere was there a true discussion about the need to reform a tax code with loopholes that allow these people to dodge the very taxes the lawmakers were bickering over in the first place.

On the other side, Democrats are typically unwilling to discuss the ever-increasing costs of U.S. social programs, which aren’t always in line with their outcomes. It is clearly worthwhile for our country to spend money on health insurance and social programs that improve the quality of life for low-income Americans. But some programs’ costs appear to outpace the benefits they offer.

The big reforms in governmental spending will remain out of reach until the short-term hemorrhaging is halted. But the deal to save us from the fiscal cliff does not truly do that.

In a matter of weeks, lawmakers will once again be arguing about raising the debt ceiling, and by March the talk will turn once again to short-term spending.

So long as lawmakers persist in fighting these small battles, real solutions will evade them.

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