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Published: Thursday, 7/28/2011

GUEST EDITORIAL

Flirting with disaster

With less than a week remaining until the federal government runs out of money to cover all its bills, it's time for Republicans and Democrats to scale down their partisan ambitions and get a deal done to raise the debt ceiling.

But the House GOP, which picked this fight, doesn't seem willing to end it. Instead, Speaker John Boehner of Ohio wants Congress to manufacture another potential crisis early next year, presumably so Republicans can again demand concessions that Democrats simply will not make. That's just nuts.

The Boehner plan would allow President Obama to raise the debt ceiling now and early next year in exchange, respectively, for discretionary spending cuts and additional deficit reductions to be determined by a bipartisan congressional commission. The measure would all but guarantee another prolonged battle over whether to raise the debt ceiling early in 2012, with the presidential campaign in full swing.

That's a frightening prospect. But Mr. Boehner is having trouble lining up support for his proposal among his fellow House Republicans, who want to extract deeper spending cuts before they raise the debt ceiling.

Never mind that just four months ago, the House approved a spending bill for the rest of fiscal 2011 that pushed borrowing beyond the current ceiling. Or that three months ago, the House passed a GOP-penned budget for fiscal 2012 that called for almost $9 trillion in additional borrowing over the coming decade.

At the same time, Senate Republicans are blasting the alternative offered by Majority Leader Harry Reid, which would raise the debt ceiling enough to last through next year's election while reducing projected deficits by $2.7 trillion. Even though Mr. Reid's plan involves no tax increases, Republicans are complaining that the spending cuts aren't real because they rely heavily on the military drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The President and speaker didn't help matters with their nationally televised speeches this week. Mr. Obama quixotically championed a much larger deficit-reduction deal that includes tax increases and entitlement cuts -- a laudable goal but not an achievable one at this stage.

And Mr. Boehner beat the drum for a rigid Tea Party approach that Senate Democrats have already rejected.

Meanwhile, chances are increasing that the United States' pristine credit rating will be downgraded by at least one of the three major ratings firms, raising interest rates and hurting the economy.

Enough is enough. A clear compromise is available that blends Senator Reid's proposed cuts and debt-ceiling increase with Speaker Boehner's proposed mechanism for enforcing those cuts. Lawmakers should embrace it and stop flirting with fiscal disaster.

-- Los Angeles Times



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