More deadline dysfunction from Capitol Hill

A sneak preview of our Tuesday editorial, updated to reflect the news that the House won't vote Monday on a fiscal cliff solution:

Will they or won’t they? Will President Obama Congress cut a deal — or send their constituents and a fragile economy over the fiscal cliff?

That was the big question Monday. With New Year’s Day fast approaching, and with it a pastiche of tax increases and spending cuts, our elected officials spent New Year’s Eve governing by deadline and dysfunction.

By Monday afternoon, the House said it would not vote to avert the fiscal cliff. But by then, our elected officials had already failed us. The fact that they had procrastinated themselves into yet another budgetary corner would be funny if it wasn’t so familiar. We’ve seen this movie before, several times over the past couple years. It doesn’t get better with repeated viewing.

Remember the spring of 2011, when a federal government shutdown was narrowly averted — only after Congress and the White House agreed on the narrowest of spending cuts? Or the debt ceiling fight from the summer of 2011? Or the congressional “supercommittee,” which was assembled after the debt ceiling increase and assigned to work on debt reduction?

The fiscal cliff is deju vu all over again.

Take it from us. In this line of work, we’ve picked up a few pointers about working on deadline. One thing being this: There is a world of difference between a deadline forced by circumstance and one that is self-imposed. The fiscal cliff falls squarely into the latter category — making this latest race against time particularly galling.

The components of the fiscal cliff have been wellknown for a long time. The repeal of the Bush tax cuts. The automatic spending cuts, totaling $110 billion per year.
The elimination of extended unemployment benefits, a lifeline for some 2 million Americans, including some 6,300 Idahoans.

The potential impacts also were well-known. Analysts said the fiscal cliff threatened to push the U.S. economy back into recession — a sobering prediction, but not sufficiently sobering to prevent our elected officials from placing brinksmanship ahead of compromise. Again.

Oh, many of them said the right things.

“Something has gone terribly wrong when the biggest threat to our American economy is the American Congress,” said Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va.

Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, blamed his colleagues for waiting until the last minute, rendering it impossible to consider any kind of long-range solutions.

And so, on New Year’s Eve, Americans were left to wait and see if the people elected to govern would do just that. The best-case scenario was yet another last-minute and short-term patch job —and they couldn’t even manage that.

Embarrassing. And somehow not surprising.