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Kondracke: Now We Know Who the Grown-Ups Are

There is enormous work to do to avoid impending disasters and put the country on a path to long-term economic health

Having just barely avoided plunging the economy off a cliff, Republicans and Democrats ought to consider: Do we really want to put ourselves and the country through this again and again?

Or, can we resolve — it’s New Year’s, after all — to realize we have to live with each other for four years, then bargain seriously and get stuff done?

There is enormous work to do to avoid impending new disasters — a default on the national debt, a sudden plunge of federal spending — and to put the country on a path to long-term economic health.

The cliff deal merely forestalled an immediate income tax increase for 99 percent of Americans and maintained benefits for the unemployed.

It did nothing to solve the country’s long-term debt burden, stop entitlements for old people from robbing the young, reform the tax code or provide the investments in education, infrastructure and research that the nation needs to meet global competition.

On the other hand — kick-the-can exercise though it was — the last-minute, sleepless-night, fiscal cliff deal did demonstrate once again that the parties can come together to avoid imminent catastrophe.

And, by merely de-fanging the spending sequester for two months, it prolonged planning havoc in every federal agency from the Pentagon to the National Institutes of Health, where grants are being canceled and researchers laid off.

And it identified who the grown-ups in town are: people we might look to to avoid the next double-barreled crisis just weeks down the road and begin tackling the longer-term threats.

President Barack Obama is riding high, having won re-election and bludgeoned the GOP into agreeing to tax rate increases on the richest Americans.

Instead of gloating, drawing lines in the sand and setting the stage for more bitter partisan confrontations, he ought to act like Grown-Up-in-Chief and set up a Council of Adults to work on the big problems ahead.

He could deputize Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., a better face-to-face negotiator than he is, to start working right now with Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to bargain on how to avoid a debt ceiling/sequester repeat of last month’s fiscal game of chicken.

It’s pretty surprising that McConnell, pegged by the White House as the arch-obstructionist, would be the one to cut the deal that avoided the cliff.

It turns out that the real obstructionist is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who reportedly threw his own president’s compromise offer on tax hikes — covering those earning more than $450,000 instead of $250,000 — into his fireplace because it was inadequately left-wing.

And on the House side, the grown-ups are Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, who voted with just a minority of their fellow Republicans not to let taxes rise on everybody and send the economy into recession.

Some right-wingers are declaring that Ryan’s 2016 presidential campaign was ended with that vote, but that’s hooey.

Ryan has defined time and again what reform-oriented Republican policy should be, has shown a willingness to adapt his ideal health care and Medicare solutions in concert with inventive Democrats such as Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and now has shown courage at the cliff.

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