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We all make compromises, so why can't Congress?

December 30, 2012 12:10 am

THE HEADLINES during the past couple of months have been sickeningly repetitive.

I'm talking about the ones along the lines of:

"Negotiations continue on 'cliff' deal"

"Lawmakers not close on deal to end 'cliff'"

"Talks break off on 'cliff' deal"

"Breakthrough coming on 'cliff' talks?"

I am confident that ultimately our federal lawmakers will come to some sort of compromise that will avoid the "fiscal cliff" of automatic tax hikes and budget cuts that so many fear. It might have even happened before this column goes to print (as I write on Thursday afternoon, the headlines speak of a plan for the House of Representatives to reconvene Sunday).

But whether there's a deal or not by the time you're reading this, my main point stands: Congress should be embarrassed by the way this has been handled.

That's an entirely bipartisan statement from someone who has little to no interest in politics. It doesn't take a government wonk to know when Congress is not doing its job effectively.

Compromise is a way of life for every individual, family and business, and we constantly must make tough decisions regarding budgets. How many families do you know that work like the following?

Wife: Your health care premiums are up, honey, and we've got to find some expenses to cut if we're going to be able to afford Christmas for the kids this year. There's no way we can possibly make any more money, so we've got to find ways to spend less.

Husband: Nonsense, dear! I refuse to cut back on anything that we're doing now. We just need to work two jobs each so we can bring in enough money to keep spending away!

Yet this is what our bickering Congress does, turning what should be a fairly easy compromise into a rhetoric-filled debate in which party lines trump compromise.

Any reasonable individual should see that the answer lies somewhere in the middle. To turn the tide on our ever-rising debt and deficit levels, we need to both cut government expenses and raise revenues. The details on how to do so are complicated, but the big picture is clear.

Surely all but the most right- and left-wing individuals would agree that some give-and-take is required to get our federal financial house in order. Most would understand if their Congressional representative gave in a little for the greater good of the nation, which simply can't keep racking up the type of debt we have now.

The best line I've read about this whole situation is one from an interview Warren Buffett gave CNBC last year.

"I could end the deficit in five minutes," the billionaire investor told CNBC's Becky Quick. "You just pass a law that says that any time there is a deficit of more than 3 percent of GDP, all sitting members of Congress are ineligible for re-election."

That proposal would truly force members of Congress to get into a room and start negotiating rather than holding press conferences to spout rhetoric and blame the other side for the country's fiscal woes.

The result would be a compromise that nobody loves but everyone can live with. Kind of like we all do every day with our personal finances.

Staff reporter Bill Freehling writes this biweekly column on business, personal finance and investing. He can be reached at 540/374-5405 or bfreehling@

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