Posted Online: Jan. 02, 2013, 1:39 pm

Editorial: Half empty, half full? Yes

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The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus

The glass half full side of us wants to celebrate the news that Congress and the president have dragged the nation back from a fiscal precipice of their own making.

Middle-class taxpayers and those who rely on the federal safety net, such as the poor and long-term unemployed, can breathe a sigh of relief.

But the glass half empty part of us worries about the long-term damage to the body politic of the divisive battle that didn't fix anything that is broken in government finances. Indeed, our leaders merely postponed our date with disaster without offering any hope that they are any better equipped to find a solution two months hence.

Both the optimists and the pessimists are right. Lawmakers and President Obama did what they had to do in inking this bad deal -- the consequences of not acting at all would have been disastrous, perhaps even throwing the nation into a deep recession.

But it's hard to find any cheerleaders for a plan that will cost most moderate-income taxpayers $1,000 more a year and raise the tax rates on incomes over $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples without making a dent in the federal deficit. The opposite in fact. Critics suggest that the deal offers $41 in tax increases for every $1 in spending cuts and still the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the "solution" will add nearly $4 trillion over the next 10 years to the deficit.

But, alas, in Washington these days, this passes as progress. Indeed, USA Today got it right when it called the stop-gap legislation passed Tuesday night "a little like a guy with a huge credit card bill deciding to make the minimum payment and then to buy a few more things with the card to make himself feel better."

On the plus side, milk will remain affordable for Americans thanks to continuation of dairy subsidies, two million jobless will get the money they need to keep going as they look for work in an economy that refuses to become robust and doctors won't see their fees cut for treating Medicare patients; good news for access to health care for poor Americans. Of course, the bad news is that there were no spending cuts implemented to pay for saving those programs.

Because of that, this deal doesn't do a thing to avert the threat of $24 billion in automatic across-the-board cuts in federal programs, including at the Pentagon which finances a military machine stretched thin by the global war on terror. It merely delayed them until late March. Another deadline for raising the nation's debt limit also is on the horizon.

So the nation will lurch from one cliff to another without any evidence that a responsible plan can be crafted to put America on a saner financial path. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell promised Tuesday that the GOP will use the threat of sequestration to leverage cuts in Medicare and other entitlement programs which are driving up the cost of government. "We've taken care of the revenue side of this debate. Now it's time to get serious about reducing Washington's out-of-control spending," he said. "That's a debate the American people want. It's the debate we'll have next. And it's a debate Republicans are ready for."

The American people are, too. But will they get one? Sen. McConnell also said Tuesday, "This shouldn't be the model for how to do things around here."
Indeed, not. But it is up to leaders like him, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Speaker of the House John Boehner to create a better model.

As members of Congress head home after today's expected adjournment, and new members of Congress such as Rep.-elect Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, prepare to take office, we fervently hope they begin the process to prevent the next manufactured disaster. Toward that end, we renew a call we issued in September that Congress first remove the threat of sequestration. Lawmakers and the president must also commit to a deadline -- we suggested May 31 -- for preparing a 10-year plan that will begin immediately and be fully underway by 2014.

They alone have the power to end this suicidal march and instead craft sound longterm fiscal policies that will set the government and the economy on a course to financial good health.