Editorial: Cliff may be averted, but critical problems remain

President Barack Obama and the 112th Congress have failed us again.

Yes, they averted many of the scariest immediate aspects of the “fiscal cliff.” And we agree with U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, that a “yes” vote was the right move in the last few hours of the latest battle. The risks of stalemate, including the chance of falling into another recession, were too extreme.

But it’s another stop-gap measure. Our leaders addressed none of the underlying problems, and we now face battles in the next few months on the debt ceiling and the expiring government spending bill.

In the short term, the resulting uncertainty hurts our efforts to climb out of our current slow-growth economy. Businesses don’t expand, jobs don’t get created, and people don’t spend more when they don’t have confidence in the consistency and stability of economic decision-making. And the immediate expiration of the payroll tax cut means workers face a 2 percent loss of income, which could further slow the economy and increase unemployment.

Ironically, the vast majority of the Bush tax cuts were made permanent with this legislation, something Republicans might have cheered a few years ago. But now we face the reality of deficits that have grown dramatically in the last few years, with no end in sight.

The most important failure, however, starts with a lack of honesty. By framing the conflict around the supposed failure of the rich to pay enough, the president avoids the critical conversation. We need to face up to the fact that the nation has made promises about low taxes and high benefits that it can’t keep. There simply aren’t enough rich people to pay the bill, no matter how high their tax rate.

Voters like the idea of high benefits with someone else paying the bill, but the numbers don’t add up. Until the president is willing to deal honestly with this reality, the nation remains at risk.

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