Congratulations, Mr. President. You've overcome one of the nastiest political campaigns in the nation's history. And, at $2.6 billion, one of the most expensive. You won.
Now, a dose of reality.
In 54 days, the nation faces a fiscal challenge unlike any other – a crisis entirely of our leaders' own making and one that, unfortunately, was barely discussed in the campaign.
On Dec. 31, the Bush-era tax cuts expire and billions of dollars of automatic spending cuts take effect. We will have reached the edge of the fiscal cliff.
The country's finances are near this precipice because Obama and Republicans in Congress couldn't agree on a deal to put them on a solid foundation last year. Instead, they squabbled, played politics, blamed one another and then loaded a gun and pointed it at themselves.
Here's what should happen now:
Mr. Obama, you should lead.
You should embrace the spirit of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform – the commission you appointed – which called for a combination of spending cuts, tax reform, changes to entitlements and increased federal revenue over a period of years to put the federal budget on a more sustainable path.
If Congress does nothing, the U.S. economy would be plunged into another recession, the Federal Reserve and the Congressional Budget Office agree. The direct hit to the economy of higher taxes and large spending cuts all at once would be that harmful.
Through tax reform that flattens rates and closes loopholes, the government ought to be able to raise more revenue. Even as the economy picks up steam, tax reform of that additional revenue will be needed. Tax reform also should aim to simplify an often Byzantine system.
Spending, meantime, should be trimmed – but not abruptly. In fact, none of this should be done abruptly, despite the angry calls for pounds of flesh demanded by the tea party right, which was dealt a blow with the defeat of two extremist U.S. Senate candidates Tuesday night.
The main point: The federal government needs to put in place a long-term, sustainable plan to reduce deficits. But it has to be realistic – and it shouldn't cut too deep or too fast at the risk of the economy.
All of this requires leadership – leadership that so far has been absent.
So how about it, Mr. President? Now is the time.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel