William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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THE MESS – AT 8:43 A.M. ET:  When he ran for president in 1952, General of the Army Eisenhower promised to clean up "the mess in Washington" after 20 years of Democratic rule.  Any such mess was minor compared with what we face today.

Today we have a weakened America, deeply in debt, unable to get itself out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, led by an adolescent, cynical president with dubious views about his own nation, and informed by a press so biased that it's become a danger to democracy itself.  Other than that, we're in great shape.

So last night, after having survived the Mayan calendar's end-of-the-world fate on December 21st, we were saved again in a deal to avert the fiscal cliff:  From The Hill:

The House late Tuesday night voted to approve a sweeping tax deal to prevent the most significant effects of the "fiscal cliff," overcoming Republican resistance to raising income tax rates on the wealthiest earners.

The 257-167 vote capped off a day of high drama in the Capitol, as Republican leaders considered and then quickly abandoned a plan to attach steep spending cuts to a measure passed overwhelmingly by the Senate early Tuesday morning.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) voted in favor of the legislation, splitting with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), the Budget Committee chairman and former Republican vice presidential nominee, voted yes.

Finished just over 36 hours before the 112th Congress adjourns, the legislation now goes to President Obama for his signature.

The bill indefinitely extends marginal tax rates on annual family income up to $450,000, lifts the top capital gains and dividends rates to 20 percent, extends unemployment insurance benefits and includes a host of other tax provisions.

It delays automatic spending cuts for two months, setting up another fiscal showdown over replacing those cuts, raising the debt ceiling and funding the federal government.

COMMENT: In other words, it's a Band-Aid.  It does nothing to address our long-term problems, and doesn't even wink at the cuts in government spending necessary to get back to some kind of rational budget policy.

In the meantime, Washington, D.C. remains one of the hottest real-estate markets in the country, due almost entirely to increased federal hiring.  The Democrats will not stop unless they are forced to stop. 

As we've noted here, Barack Hussein Obama Jr, just re-elected through some mathematical process, did not shine in these weeks of crisis.  He has chosen the course of petulance and smallness.  Someone once said that Harry Truman did the biggest things in the biggest ways and the littlest things in the littlest ways.  Obama does everything in the littlest ways and wouldn't know the biggest ways if they were described to him by Michelle. 

It's not a great agreement, but I agree with Mitch McConnell and writers like Bill Kristol, both of whom said it had to be passed.  The Republicans must choose their battles carefully.  They had to get the country through the fiscal cliff and not be blamed for a disaster.

January 2, 2013