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updated: 8/4/2011 10:27 AM

Now, let's find long-term solution to debt problem

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Daily Herald Editorial Board

So, the question of the day is, have we just averted a disastrous economic crisis or have we simply witnessed the final wrap on a scene we'll see in reruns two years from now? With the House and Senate having approved a debt ceiling compromise, politicians looking to declare victory on one side or the other should think first about how that question is answered.

Without doubt, the nation is better off in the short term because leadership and cooperation triumphed over defiance and obstinacy. But if we find ourselves back in this same crisis when -- or if -- the debt ceiling needs to be raised again in 2013, that can only be ascribed to a failure of leadership and cooperation.

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We know well that the issues remaining to be solved are not easy ones. The controversy over a balanced-budget amendment alone has raged since 1936. Taxation and revenues need a deeper national discussion. Medicare and Medicaid spending aren't just entitlements; they are literal lifelines to health care for millions of Americans, just as Social Security is a critical supplement to American workers' retirement incomes.

That's all the more reason that finding the right spending balance on these and other national priorities ought not, indeed cannot, be done in a crisis atmosphere. They require reasoned study and exhaustive debate. If the president and congressional leaders are seriously interested in solving these problems, they will not let the study and debate end with this deal, or even at the other stages in the process it outlines, to be revisited again only when the next crisis comes around.

And national leaders from the suburbs and Illinois are positioned to play a pivotal role in making sure the work gets done properly. Wheaton Republican U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, chief deputy whip of the House, and Springfield Democrat U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 ranking member of the Senate, figured prominently in the negotiations that resulted in a solution.

The challenge for them, like the rest of the Illinois delegation and indeed all of Congress, is to set in motion now the forces that address the one issue that all sides agree is paramount in U.S. budgetary policy -- how the nation balances its spending priorities against its revenues. And it bears pointing out that, just as compromise was critical to preventing economic disaster this week, cooperation and concession will be required to produce a lasting solution.

In the true nature of compromise, everyone can find something to complain about in the debt ceiling bill, and likely no long-term solution can be crafted to please every interest. But a long-term solution must be found, and the real test of this short-term patch will be whether it is found within the next two years or within a two-week window in March of 2013.

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