Editorial: Bipartisan action, not just rhetoric, is a necessity
The political make-up in Washington is little changed after Tuesday's election, which means the same impediments to solutions for the nation's problems still exist if current leaders don't abandon their rigid, partisan ways.
Democrat Barack Obama will be the nation's president for another term. Despite some losses by the GOP in both the U.S. Senate and House, the divided power on Capital Hill remains. The Republicans continue to hold sway in the House, while Democrats retain a majority in the Senate but not a big enough margin to overcome Republican objections.
So does that mean the American public will have to put up with more years of do-nothing antics in Washington, with leaders of the two political parties focusing more on scoring political points rather than finding common ground to tackle the nation's pressing problems?
We hope not, but based on the past four years and the lack of a clear direction from voters, there's plenty of room for pessimism. Investors made that clear on Wednesday when they drove stock market measures down sharply. The Dow's loss of 313 points was its biggest drop of the year, and many analysts attributed a good part of that to worries that Democrats and Republicans in the White House and Congress will not find a way to take action before Jan. 1 to avoid what has been called the "fiscal cliff" facing the nation.
That fiscal cliff is a combination of expiring tax cuts implemented in George W. Bush's first term as president and across-the-board spending reductions to the Pentagon and domestic programs that could amount to $800 billion next year. It is bearing down on the nation because that's the best that the divided Congress and the White House could do to try to wrestle with the nation's growing government debt and taxes. Basically, they have "kicked the can down the road" to this point because they've been unable to find any compromises.
The result will be higher taxes across the board for the American public as well as reduced help for the unemployed, among other things. Economists fear that such a blow will tip the nation's rocky economic recovery back into recession, thus extending the suffering that many Americans faced since the Great Recession emerged with full force in 2008.
Will the potential havoc to the nation be enough to prompt Democrats to reach across the aisle to Republicans? Will members of the GOP put an end to what critics call their obstructionist ways?
Perhaps the weight of the impending fiscal cliff will prompt some constructive action.
Obama, in seeking re-election and immediately after his victory on Tuesday, talked about working together with Republicans during his next term. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on Wednesday said he was willing to pursue a deal with Obama that will include higher taxes "under the right conditions" to help reduce the nation's huge debt and put its finances in order. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also expressed his desire to tackle the fiscal cliff quickly to avoid the ramifications of doing nothing before Jan. 1.
Of course, we've heard such talk before, but it means nothing unless leaders are indeed willing to act on those sentiments. That may mean that neither political gains any so-called victories over the issues involved, but that shouldn't be the top priority for Obama or Congress. If indeed responsible leadership surfaces once again in Washington, the nation will be better off. But if this is just more empty rhetoric, we all stand to lose.