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Fiscal Cliff Requires Bipartisan Action — Now

For nearly a year, Congress has driven America full speed toward a fiscal cliff. Now, just a few weeks before going over the edge, what we need is bipartisan compromise and less posturing.

Unfortunately, Senate Budget Committee member Mark Warner, D-Va., has revealed a push in Congress to make a “down payment” during the lame duck so members can “avoid sequestration” without actually pursuing a long-term solution. This short-term thinking will just allow our economy to further deteriorate as Congress avoids making real cuts.

Congress must come up with a solution for the automatic cuts of sequestration. The best chance to do that is through a more strategic, thoughtful and comprehensive budget that balances our collective checkbook. Programs that are over budget, not delivering or that don’t have a compelling strategic rationale simply shouldn’t have a place in the new budget. All government spending should be put under the microscope, no exceptions.

Addressing waste in the Pentagon budget, for example, is something both sides should be able to agree on. When I interviewed Grover Norquist for American Conservative magazine only a few weeks ago, he said, “Conservatives should insist that defense spending be examined with the same seriousness that we demand in examining the books of those government agencies that spend taxpayer money in the name of welfare, the environment or education.”

We have too many programs on the books that drain taxpayer dollars instead of reinforce national security. Nuclear weapons, for example, do little to address 21st-century threats and will cost $640 billion over the next decade, yet we still have elected officials trying to ensure that wasteful nuclear weapons programs are exempted from budget cuts next year. Just as we should direct a critical eye at entitlement programs, we should keep our eye on the Pentagon budget as a place where we can be both more cost effective and more strategic.

Unfortunately, members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are spending more time arguing about whose fault sequestration is than they are seeking a bipartisan resolution.

The Obama administration’s budget chief, Jeffrey Zients, has blamed lack of progress on Republicans: “The root cause of the problem here is the Republican refusal to acknowledge that the top 2 percent have to pay their fair share.” Simultaneously, a group of three Republicans (including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who voted for the sequester in the first place) has traveled from one small defense industry town to the next, arguing that, “by refusing to lead [on the sequester], President Obama shows that he is willing to risk our nation’s security for purely political purposes.”

This is precisely the type of behavior that earns Congress a 9 percent approval rating. In fact, both the president and Congress have fallen behind deadlines on the sequester and both parties are eager to point this out to each other. The net result is showing the American people that Washington isn’t taking its responsibilities seriously.

No one likes the sequester, but we should use our current predicament as an opportunity to make some smart decisions, cut wasteful and unnecessary programs and tighten our belts, not kick the can down the road. Extending the deadline for the sequester is unlikely to suddenly inspire Congress to act. The “supercommittee” failed to find an alternative budget a year ago. We haven’t come up with a reasonable alternative in the meantime, and if we delay sequestration further, our negative bank balance will continue to weaken our economy and make us less economically competitive.

The responsible next step is to negotiate an alternative. Republicans need to realize it is impossible to implement one-sided cuts without any compromise on the enormous and unwieldy Pentagon budget. Democrats need to offer up domestic spending programs. The only way to avoid a bad outcome for the country is to work together toward a common goal instead of merely assigning blame.

Michael Ostrolenk is a conservative national security consultant.

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