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Editorial: Compromise lost art in Washington

Last Modified: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 5:39 PM

History tells us that Emperor Nero fiddled while Rome burned.

And history appears to be repeating itself in Washington, D.C. as the president and Congress play politics while this country’s debt continues its upward climb.

The country is now eight days away from a March 1 deadline that will force across-the-board cuts of about $85 billion to the federal budget, a process known as sequestration. Those cuts were originally scheduled to occur on Jan. 2, absent of a deal between Congress and the White House over cuts in discretionary spending and reduction of the federal budget. But political leaders chose to delay the day of reckoning, or fiscal cliff as it has been termed, for two months.

It’s fast approaching again and is only superseded by Democrats and Republicans jockeying for the political high ground.

This isn’t a way to run a nation. These shenanigans have become toxic. Leaders in both parties have already carved out their positions with Democrats saying some budget cuts to entitlements are off the table and Republicans dismissing the notion of additional tax hikes.

Sadly, the art of compromise has gone from being a dirty word in both parties to a form of leprosy.

On Tuesday, former U.S. Sen. Erskine Bowles, a Democrat, who teamed with former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson to craft a plan to reduce the deficit, labeled sequester a ‘‘stupid, stupid, stupid’’ idea but said the threat of the automatic cuts could pressure Congress to create a better alternative later.

That might have worked in an earlier Congress and White House, but it appears to have little chance with the battle lines so hardened.

Bowles and Simpson, who co-chaired a committee that once designed a plan to cut the deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years, are now suggesting steps that would cut $2.4 trillion from the deficit by 2023.

Those savings, according to the two men, could be accomplished through health care and tax reforms, mandatory spending cuts and stronger caps on discretionary spending.

‘‘ ...We believe strongly and sincerely that an agreement on a comprehensive plan to bring our debt under control is possible if both sides are able to put their sacred cows on the table in the spirit of principled compromise,’’ Bowles and Simpson wrote.

‘‘The problem is real, the solutions are painful, and there is no easy way out. ... It is time for our country to put this ultra-partisanship aside and pull together, not apart. We must do it for our grandchildren; we must do it for ourselves; we must do it for our country.’’

If only they would stop fiddling in Washington.

• • •

This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.

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