Cliff deserves diligence

One way or the other, Congress and the president will probably step back from the economic fiscal cliff — a combination of tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to take effect Jan. 1 — before too long. One thing Americans can be sure of, however, is that their leaders have still not learned that there is more to leadership than political grandstanding, because the month since November’s election does not seem to have produced any progress on the nation’s greatest priority.

There is some hope, we suppose, that the president and leaders of Congress have quietly been hammering out a sensible economic plan without any details leaking to the public. But not much. Given their public statements, it is unlikely the White House and Congressional Republicans have made any significant progress. So what is in store for Americans is a last-ditch effort that will probably share several unfortunate traits: It will be hastily contrived, it will require Congressional passage without members having time to truly absorb or understand all the implications and it will be a short-term solution to a long-term problem.

What Americans need more than anything at this point is a well-crafted economic policy that blends necessary tax increases with sensible spending cuts. This week’s report about a wasteful Department of Homeland Security grant program provides plenty of evidence that the federal government has fat to cut; but those cuts can’t be made with an ax, they require time-consuming budget and management surgery — time that is no longer available.

The best strategy now would be for the White House and Congress to push back from the fiscal cliff on a temporary basis (again), regroup and really develop a plan that works — without grandstanding. With 23 months before the next election, now is the time to take that step.

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