Gridlock is not the solution to American woes

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By Sondra L. Shapiro

It’s a new year and a new/old administration and Congress. If only the old could disappear and we could start with a clean slate. The trouble is the same old problem — gridlock — could actually be worse.

This couldn’t come at a worse time since the fiscal cliff diversion only postpones hard choices.

The Jan. 1 deal took the easy way out. It aimed to please everyone, at the expense of what is best for the country, long term.

Sadly, this is business as usual.

What could muddy the already murky waters of Washington politics are the recent election results that thin the ranks of “pragmatic, centrist veterans in both parties,” as the Associated Press describes them. And so, that could mean even more polarization, less cooperation among congressional leaders and the president.

Though the president and Congress were able to cobble together an agreement to save us from the cliff in the short term, there is still too much at stake and little indication there will be the much-needed bi-partisanship to fix what ails us.

shapiro_hsThe fiscal cliff measures created a Band-Aid to protect the fragile economy from bursting. The tougher task will be to establish long-term remedies.

The last minute measures actually added to that challenge, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. For instance, had all the tax cuts been allowed to expire, it would have saved $4 trillion from the federal deficits over the next decade. Keep in mind that our government borrows about 31 cents of every dollar it spends.

The so-called fiscal cliff was supposed to be an opportunity to make lawmakers deal with the trillion-dollar annual budget deficits. If nothing is done about the national debt, future generations will suffer the consequences. After all, not even the federal government can keep borrowing without suffering financial ruin.

Under the deal, spending cuts, totaling $110 billion, that were to take place Jan. 1, were delayed until March 1. So without more negotiations and new agreements, all federal agencies  — with no consideration of priorities or importance to various populations — would suffer cuts. Because there are businesses that would see less government subsidy, there could be less hiring and production. Ultimately the economy might stall.

At the same time if nothing is done about the debt ceiling, the country will lose it’s ability to borrow.

And there could be a government shutdown the end of March, when the stopgap measure that funds government activities expires.

“This movement away from the center, at a time when issues have to be resolved from the middle, makes it much more difficult to find solutions to major problems,” William Hoagland, senior vice president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, a private group advocating compromise, told the Associated Press.

So, this new Congress and our re-elected president need to find a way to cross the divide to find solutions to the problems this country still faces.

The challenge will be how to streamline government without hurting programs that help the nation’s most vulnerable. Congress and the president must sufficiently fix Medicare and Social Security without sacrificing the intent of both programs.

With the mixed messages coming out of the November elections, Democrats shouldn’t see the results as a signal to hold firm on big spending. Nor should Republicans feel free to willy-nilly slice programs such as Medicare, Social Security or Medicaid as conditions to extend the debt ceiling or for any other reason.

It is mind-boggling why we Americans voted the way we did in this election. Perhaps it is difficult to consider the big picture during political campaigns when sound bites flood the airwaves. Now it is up to Washington lawmakers to leave campaigning behind and rise above partisan politics.

Solutions will be very difficult to work out. It is thin tightrope to maneuver between preserving what are critical lifelines to individual Americans while culling money from budgets. It will take prudent thought, strong compromise and a willingness to make difficult decisions to put us all on the right track.

Sondra Shapiro is the executive editor of the Fifty Plus Advocate. Email her at sshapiro.fiftyplusadvocate@verizon.net. And follow her online at www.facebook.com/fiftyplusadvocate, www.twitter.com/shapiro50plus or www.fiftyplusadvocate.com.