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Congress should stop flirting with disaster

With as little as a week remaining until the federal government runs out of money to cover all its bills, it’s time for Republicans and Democrats to scale down their partisan ambitions and get a deal done to raise the debt ceiling. But the House GOP, which picked this fight, doesn’t seem willing to end it. Instead, Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) wants Congress to manufacture another potential crisis early next year, presumably so Republicans can again demand concessions that Democrats simply will not make. That’s just nuts.

Opinion Poll: How anxious are you about the debt ceiling?

The Boehner plan would allow President Obama to raise the debt ceiling now and early next year in exchange, respectively, for discretionary spending cuts and additional deficit reductions to be determined by a bipartisan congressional commission. The measure would all but guarantee another prolonged battle over whether to raise the debt ceiling early in 2012, with the presidential campaign in full swing.

That’s a frightening prospect. But Boehner is having trouble lining up support for his proposal among his fellow House Republicans, who want to extract deeper spending cuts before raising the debt ceiling. Never mind that just four months ago, the House approved a spending bill for the rest of fiscal 2011 that pushed borrowing beyond the current debt ceiling. Or that three months ago, the House passed a GOP-penned budget for fiscal 2012 that called for almost $9 trillion in additional borrowing over the coming decade.

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At the same time, Senate Republicans are blasting the alternative offered by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), which would raise the debt ceiling enough to last through next year’s election while reducing projected deficits by $2.7 trillion. Even though Reid’s plan involves no tax increases, Republicans are complaining that the spending cuts aren’t real because they rely heavily on the military drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama and Boehner didn’t help matters with their nationally televised speeches Monday evening. Obama quixotically championed a much larger deficit-reduction deal that includes tax increases and entitlement cuts, a laudable goal but not an achievable one at this stage. And Boehner beat the drum for a rigid “tea party” approach that Senate Democrats have already rejected.

Meanwhile, chances are increasing that the United States’ pristine credit rating will be downgraded by at least one of the three major ratings firms, raising interest rates and hurting the economy. Enough is enough. There’s a clear compromise available that blends Reid’s proposed cuts and debt-ceiling increase with Boehner’s proposed mechanism for enforcing those cuts. Lawmakers should embrace it and stop flirting with fiscal disaster.

Opinion Poll: How anxious are you about the debt ceiling?


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