Editorial: Our congressmen and the fiscal cliff test

Let us start this discussion of “the fiscal cliff” by saying we are relieved, but by no means pleased.

Last weekend, the United States’ economy teetered on the brink of a self-inflicted calamity.

As amazing as it seemed, it appeared for a time that Congress and President Barack Obama were willing to let us all go over that cliff. It was a scenario that would have raised taxes on all Americans and indiscriminately slashed spending in the short term, but the implications extended far beyond that.

It also would have inflicted substantially more damaging and potentially long-lasting effects on a still-weak economy. Very likely, it could have sent us tumbling into another recession, eliminating more jobs and costing millions untold value in their retirement holdings. Simply put, it could have been catastrophic.

Despite that, three congressmen from our suburbs chose to vote against the bipartisan but imperfect package that saved the country from that catastrophe — Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam of Wheaton, Randy Hultgren of Winfield and Joe Walsh of McHenry.

Did they have cause to oppose the measure? Yes, as they pointed out, the legislation failed in any meaningful way to address the uncontrolled spending in Washington that threatens the country in the long run.

That’s a valid criticism, one also leveled by numerous congressmen and many conservatives who voted in favor of the legislation.

But passage does not restrict further action on spending, which in fact is expected in the next two months. And passage also enacted into permanent law tax cuts for middle-income Americans that until now had been temporary.

But mainly, passage spared the country from significant economic suffering.

To oppose this compromise was reckless and irresponsible. We can only hope that Roskam, Hultgren and Walsh voted “no” as a protest once they knew the measure was going to pass anyway.

Otherwise, the vote makes us question the endorsements we recently gave Roskam and Hultgren and reinforces our decision to withhold an endorsement from Walsh.

Meanwhile, does that mean we’re pleased with everyone else? Hardly.

Make no mistake about it. Obama had a hand in this brinkmanship. He cannot maintain that he was “willing to negotiate” and then before the negotiations begin declare what possible compromises are off limits. Drawing lines in the sand does not promote a dialogue that leads to compromise.

The suburbs have three newly elected Democratic members of Congress — Tammy Duckworth of Hoffman Estates, Bill Foster of Naperville and Brad Schneider of Deerfield. Each has vowed to operate in a bipartisan spirit. The debate in the next two months over spending reductions will show how seriously we should take those vows.

The national debt has spiraled and must be reduced. There is no doubt about that. Spending must be cut.

We’ll be watching to see if Duckworth, Foster and Schneider, in addition to the rest of our congressional delegation, tackle this with the independent and creative thought such a national crisis demands. We need problem solving, not politics.

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