Inquirer Editorial: Let this vote be a beginning

Sen. Pat Toomey
Sen. Pat Toomey (ALEX BRANDON / Associated Press, file)
Posted: January 03, 2013

In a rare, long-overdue moment of bipartisan compromise, Congress avoided that overhyped leap over the fiscal cliff into a new recession.

Area Republicans deserve applause for standing up to their tea-party peers who took an oath to never raise taxes. Even so, they should continue to insist that the spending side of the equation to reduce the federal deficit must be addressed as well, military spending in particular.

President Obama says he's on board with that, but wisely noted that any future spending cuts should be balanced against additional tax reform, including closing loopholes for the wealthiest individuals and corporations.

"If we are going to be serious about spending reduction and debt reduction, it's going to have to be a matter of shared sacrifice," Obama said Monday.

The Senate deal that cleared the House on New Year's Day is almost a wash for many Americans, who will see their Bush-era tax cuts survive, but will have more taken out of their paychecks for Social Security, which isn't all bad. Social Security's long-term future needs to be clearer. Cutting its funding stream was never a good idea.

The compromise raises the income-tax rate from 35 percent to 39.6 percent on individuals earning more $400,000 a year and couples earning more than $450,000, which is less than 1 percent of U.S. households. Estates worth more than $5 million will be assessed at a 40 percent tax rate, which is 5 percent increase, but still is less than what Democrats had wanted.

The deal won't satisfy those who wanted even higher taxes on the nation's richest, but it extends benefits another year for two million long-term-unemployed Americans. The small checks they receive will help sustain families as well as local economies. The deal also preserves tax credits for dependent children and college tuition, which helps working families.

For the Philadelphia region, which has an aging population and an economy bolstered by strong medical institutions, the plan averted cuts to physicians' Medicare reimbursements. Some doctors had threatened to stop seeing Medicare patients if those cuts went through.

Reaching a compromise is never easy because neither side gets everything it wants. But Sen. Pat Toomey didn't let his being a conservative stop him from voting for the deal and urging House Republicans to do the same. In fact, the Philadelphia region's six Republican House members from New Jersey and Pennsylvania all supported the package.

The self-created fiscal crisis, fueled by absolutist demagoguery, was a terrible distraction from other important issues that Congress still needs to address.

While teetering at the edge of the fiscal cliff, little or nothing was done to shore up roads and bridges, reduce health-care costs, build a better education system to prepare young people for work in a rebounding economy, or bolster fledgling industries that will provide the jobs of the future. That's no way to do business.

Now that more members of Congress have found the courage to put principles above party, there is reason to believe responsible government is possible.

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