Budget deal needed - now

This editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

House Republicans and President Obama made progress on striking a budget deal Monday, but, by Tuesday, pessimism had returned. The time for such see-sawing has passed. The well-being of the United States is at stake, and the state of Alaska’s more so than most.

Alaskans share the concern of the rest of the country’s citizens about the higher tax rates that will come unless current rates are extended. However, what makes Alaska’s situation distinct is our large number of federal government employees and military troops. Unless a deal is brokered, automatic cuts will hit the agencies and military branches hard.

Who knows where these cuts might fall? Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, suggested Fort Wainwright might close if the military cuts that Obama was advocating in budget negotiations were made. Young wasn’t talking about the even larger automatic cuts that would be mandated if there is no deal. Such talk illustrates how serious the situation has become.

The military isn’t the only federal operation under threat, though. We have many federal agencies and federally supported organizations in Alaska, all of which are at high risk from automatic cuts.

In the long term, the military and federal agencies need to shrink. If that decline is inevitable, though, it needs to be a steady, controlled decline, not sudden death from a leap off the fiscal cliff.

To avoid decimating our federal agencies and military, we’ll need to contain our entitlement spending. We’ll also need to raise revenue if we are to entertain any hope of balancing the budget. Those are big, ugly pills. There’s nothing to do but swallow them.

Last week, 168 CEOs wrote to Obama on behalf of the Business Roundtable, advocating a deal. “The deal should be a balanced solution to the fiscal cliff and long-term deficit and debt issues,” they said. “To address these challenges with the scale of response required, no options should be precluded from a potential solution.”

Their preference is to cut more than tax, but both will be required, they said. “Compromise will require Congress to agree on more revenue — whether by increasing rates, eliminating deductions or some combination thereof — and the administration to agree to larger, meaningful structural and benefit entitlement reforms and spending reductions that are a fiscally responsible multiple of increased revenues,” they said.

It’s long past time to get this done. Alaska’s congressional delegation must do all it can to make it happen. Nothing else is so important at this moment.

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