In era of gridlock, Congress ‘created a monster’

Congress made no pretense of trying to make any progress toward reducing the deficit

Setting a looming deadline to avert self-created calamity has become a frequent device for the US Congress to get things done in recent years. When all else fails, as it often does, it's supposed to frighten members into action.

That was the idea when Congress created the "fiscal cliff" in August, 2011 to resolve a partisan struggle, also with a deadline and also self-created, over raising the federal debt ceiling.

Catastrophic budget cuts, timed to coincide with the threat of hefty income tax increases, would finally produce big cuts in the soaring federal budget by December 31, 2012, or else.

It didn't work.

Congress scared everyone but Congress, which while cutting taxes for most and raising them for a few, made no pretense of trying to make any progress toward reducing the deficit.

"We created a monster," Democratic Representative Charles Rangel of New York said on the floor of the House of Representatives on Tuesday night just before a House vote averted most of the effects of the fiscal cliff.

"This fandango was an immense embarrassment," American Enterprise Institute scholar Norm Ornstein said in an interview with Reuters, calling it "cringeworthy."

And "the fact that we are going to have another disastrous confrontation over the debt limit in two months, with the radical right wing of the House Republicans determined to send us over the edge if they don't get their way, is actually frightening."

"This House could have done worse, by rejecting the plan" to avoid the cliff, he said, "but it has done nothing to challenge its record as at minimum the worst Congress in our lifetimes."

The next confrontation to which Ornstein referred is likely to start heating up in a matter of weeks in anticipation of the need to once again raise the borrowing limit for the government beyond the current level of about $16 trillion. The risk will be a default by the government.

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