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Congress must strike a 'grand bargain'--now
Mark Warner's op-ed column on the fiscal cliff.

 A soaring deficit puts added pressure on Barack Obama and Congress to seek a budget deal in the coming weeks.
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Date published: 1/25/2013


--Congress rang in the new year with a political compromise to avoid what had come to be known as the "fiscal cliff." While we avoided a tax increase on most Americans, we also pushed off once again many of the tough decisions required to get our country back on a responsible fiscal path.

If Congress and the White House are unable to agree on debt-reduction measures by March, America will face a triple threat: a congressional vote to raise the debt ceiling, across-the-board spending cuts required by the sequester, and the expiration of the law that keeps the government funded.

I am convinced the political dysfunction in Washington continues to drag down our economic recovery. It has added to consumer and business uncertainty, and it's keeping the American economy in low gear.

The indecision also poses a real and significant threat to our national security. As it is, the Pentagon is operating on last year's budget. And this white-knuckle game of chicken over the automatic sequester cuts, in particular, could require the Pentagon to furlough workers, lay off contract employees, ground military aircraft, and call back to port.

If Congress fails to step up, these fiscal challenges will converge in a "perfect storm" where Pentagon budget planners will be required to find billions of dollars in savings almost immediately, with hardly any flexibility to prioritize the cuts.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta appropriately has ruled out cuts to ongoing combat operations in Afghanistan, as well as cuts in pay and benefits for our war-fighters. But that means automatic sequester cuts will dig deeper into other programs.

Of deep concern to me is the prospect of layoffs for federal employees and private sector contractors, many of whom are performing cutting-edge work nearby at the Naval Surface Warfare Center at Dahlgren.

Budget indecision and the prospect of furloughs or layoffs could well drive many of these highly skilled employees into the private sector. These employees have spent years honing their expertise in the development and integration of complex war-fighting systems. Taxpayers, too, have invested a lot in the careers of these employees.

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