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Originally published Saturday, December 15, 2012 at 4:00 PM

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Editorial: Shoving recovery into the abyss

The specter of reckless budget cuts and random, desperate grabs for federal revenues stirs fears of another recession.

Seattle Times Editorial

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THE U.S. economy is inching toward a fiscal cliff that was a political contrivance to spur remedial action on the budget, debt and deficit.

An arrogant tactic has put the country’s economic recovery in jeopardy.

As the Dec. 31stdeadline looms for sweeping tax increases and broad, automatic spending cuts, what will happen next is unknown. The uncertainty casts the dark shadow of another recession.

Predictably, the 2012 election season froze everyone in place and halted all efforts to negotiate, compromise or find middle ground.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., did not help the mood when she suggested the plunge off the fiscal cliff might be employed as a last resort. She subsequently said she did not want to go over any “fiscal cliff, slope, or mountain or whatever,” but that simply accepting any deal to reach a deal would hurt more families in the long run.

Her frustrations come from the earlier failure of a so-called supercommittee she led to broker a budget compromise with Republicans.

Washington residents expect Murray and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, who will chair the House Republican Conference, to be part of the solution and help move their parties toward a constructive outcome.

McMorris Rodgers, for example, is a signatory of the Grover Norquist no-tax pledge, but she is on record as being open to new revenues. Some specificity there might help guide her party.

Missing the Dec. 31 deadline launches an aggressive plan to cut federal budgets by $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years. Take away estimated savings on interest on the debt, and the target is about $984 billion over a decade.

Taxes would go up and military and domestic spending would come down, in many cases automatically, across the board. This spun out of the Budget Control Act of 2011, with legislative roots to 1985.

The plunge into the abyss restores taxes cut from 2001 to 2003, ends tax credits from 2009 and restores a 2 percent rollback of Social Security taxes. Everyone would feel the hit across the economy.

The frustration for many, as noted by Wall Street Journal economics writer David Wessel, is that 63 percent of the budget is on autopilot for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, farm subsidies and interest on the debt. Congress argues over an ever-thinner slice of the budget.

Military spending supports a Pentagon budget that is larger than those of the next 17 countries combined. Automatic cuts are irresponsible but defense expenditures are overdue for a hard look, with potential consequences close to home. Everything is on the table, including entitlements and revenue.

The fiscal cliff compounds the growing recognition that so little of the budget receives any scrutiny. Mindless whacking of budgets across the board would be a disaster.

As McMorris Rodgers noted in an October op-ed piece in Eastern Washington weeklies, “We’re elected to Congress to make tough decisions, negotiate bipartisan solutions, and improve the lives of those who elected us.”

Exactly so. These desperate, 11th-hour negotiations between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, mock the intent of a congressional budget process.

Compromise is an imperative, however improbable. The fiscal cliff is not an option.

“The problem is real. The solutions are going to be painful. There is no easy way out,” Erskine Bowles, co-chairman of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, said at recent Seattle forums.

The nation cannot abide mindless, automatic cuts that touch everything from food safety to the national parks. Murray and McMorris Rodgers were elected to be part of the solution.

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