December 12. 2012 8:22PM

Another view -- Bob Smith: Washington's lack of leadership has brought us to the cliff's edge


Our descent into reckless government spending and deep national debt was not a rapid fall. It began with the policies of the New Deal, when the government began to usurp responsibilities from the individual, and the welfare state was created. It has grown ever since and culminated in the reelection of the most liberal President in American history last November.

We have a fiscal crisis in America because the people of America over the past 80 years collectively have elected representatives in Congress and the White House who do not have the courage to lead us with fiscal restraint and responsible spending. It is easier to tell people that we can give them an "entitlement" or project, than it is to say, "we cannot afford it." This is the problem.

The current debate on the so-called fiscal cliff is a fraud. It is our elected representatives misleading us again. We went through this several months ago. Remember the debate on raising the debt ceiling? Remember the Simpson-Bowles Commission? Congress and the President could not cut spending, so they created a commission to do it. They shirked their responsibilities to the American people. Then the commission came up with some sensible ideas to reduce the deficit and get us on a path to a balanced budget. What happened? The White House and the Congress ignored the commission's recommendations. But there was a hammer in the commission. Automatic tax increases and harsh spending cuts on the discretionary programs would take effect if existing laws were not changed by Jan. 1 of 2013. The Bush tax cuts would be repealed on all Americans, and defense and other discretionary spending would be slashed so badly that even Obama's own secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, warned that it would devastate our military. This is the so-called fiscal cliff: a fictitious phrase created by the very fiscal cowards who created the mess in the first place.

The Republicans want to broaden the agenda to strong pro-growth proposals, extend the Bush tax cuts and put ALL programs, both discretionary and entitlements, on the table. The Democrats want to "raise taxes on the wealthy" and spend more, not less. The liberal press has defined the issue. "The Democrats want to raise taxes on the wealthy and cut taxes on the middle class, and the Republicans want to cut Social Security, Medicare, veterans benefits and anything else they can get their hands on to hurt people." It is politics at its absolute worst as the economic viability of America hangs in the balance. The truth is that no matter what the result of this debate, spending and taxes go up and the deficit and the debt increase. It is business as usual. At best, we might slightly slow the rate of increase in the debt. At worst, we do not even do that and it rises faster than ever.

Former commission chairman Sen. Alan Simpson, with whom I served in the U.S. Senate, is an honorable and wise man. He said it best. "They are going to kick the can down the road again. Only this time the can is a 55 gallon drum filled with toxic waste with holes in it."

Congress and the President need to drop this debate on the "fiscal cliff" and act worthy of the responsibility we gave them all. Stop the politics and stop worrying about the next election and focus on the next generation. Hunker down in the White House or one of the rooms in the Capitol building and do not come out until you have a real plan to reform the entitlements, cut taxes on businesses, reduce spending and restore economic growth. Put everything on the table with a definite time line. No more postponing the tough decisions for our children.

Here is my challenge to Congress and the White House. Would you rather be remembered as the leaders who saved America for your children and grandchildren or just another bunch of pathetic panderers who cannot say "no?"

Bob Smith is a former Republican U.S. Senator from New Hampshire. He now lives in Florida.