Editorial: Bipartisan backsliding in Congress needs to end

On Wednesday, Congress finally cast a bipartisan budget vote – to kill a bipartisan approach to solving the nation’s long-term deficit and debt issues. And so, after the glimmer of hope over a “grand bargain” last summer, the parties have agreed to intensify their disagreement.

This was to be expected in an election year. Voters haven’t sufficiently pressured Congress to compromise on issues of spending cuts and tax increases. But it’s distressing, nonetheless.

Wednesday’s vote was on an amendment offered by Reps. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, and Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., that reflected the goals of the Simpson-Bowles Commission, which was assembled – and then abandoned – by President Barack Obama. It’s the lone legitimate compromise being offered, but it attracted only 38 votes.

That’s a significant step back from last summer when a bipartisan congressional effort co-directed by Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, called for the congressional “super committee” to “go big” on long-term deficit reduction. That Go Big coalition drew the support of 100 House members, including Simpson, and Democratic Reps. Rick Larsen, Norm Dicks and Adam Smith, all from Washington state.

Ultimately, the super committee failed to reach a deal, and bipartisanship has been on the run ever since. This time, Dicks and Smith retreated to their partisan corner, and Simpson and Larsen were the only House members from Idaho or Washington to cast votes for the Simpson-Bowles compromise.

Thursday, this backsliding to the old stalemate was finalized when the House approved the budget plan authored by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., on a pure party-line vote. This all-cuts budget has no hope of passing the Senate, and its proponents know it.

Looming in December is another showdown over raising the debt ceiling. In the meantime, the nation will stage fierce election fights that will probably polarize the country even more.

Had enough?

The members of Congress don’t believe you have. Yes, you’ve given them dismal grades in approval polls, but that hasn’t changed their behavior.

Nonpartisan budget experts are nearly unanimous in their belief that the nation cannot achieve long-term fiscal health without cutting spending and raising revenue. The LaTourette-Cooper Amendment offered both. But powerful forces on the right have pressured Republicans to avoid tax increases at all costs, and powerful forces on the left are urging Democrats to keep their hands off expensive entitlement programs.

This nation spends $38 for every $22 it brings in. The only realistic solution is to lower the first number and increase the second. Most members of Congress realize this, but they’re more afraid of the repercussions from special interests than from the voters.

The only way politicians will find the courage to lead is for voters to show that they will follow.

So, let them know that you have had enough, and that you demand a solution to the nation’s frightening fiscal outlook.