Both sides need to brake to keep U.S. from freefall

Sen. Patty Murray's continued hard line on negotiations for avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff may play well to her Democratic base, but the election is over.

It's time to put the nation's interest above partisan politics.

That's especially true for Murray as she accumulates more political power. It was announced Thursday she plans to seek a greater role shaping federal spending as the leader of the Senate Budget Committee

It's a key position for helping the U.S. get its debt under control but not if the chairwoman can't bring Republicans and Democrats together.

Today offers the perfect opportunity for a fresh start, when congressional leaders from both parties meet with President Obama at the White House.

We're not blaming either party for the country's financial mess. Too many Democrats seem to believe that taxing the rich alone can stop the bleeding, and a majority of Republicans have been steadfastly opposed to any tax increase regardless of the consequences for the country.

Both stands are equally moronic.

But it's starting to look as if reality is finally gaining some traction in Washington, D.C., and in time to avoid the $600 billion in spending cuts and tax increases that would kick in Jan. 1 if Congress fails to act.

Some Republicans are starting to admit that cuts alone can't solve the nation's financial crisis. And some Democrats are admitting that the runaway federal deficit can't be reined in without addressing the cost of Social Security and Medicare.

President Obama is talking compromise. At his news conference Wednesday, Obama said, "I'm ready and willing to make big commitments to make sure that we're locking in the kind of deficit reductions that stabilize our deficit.

"I want a big deal. I want a comprehensive deal," he said.

There's widespread agreement that plunging off the fiscal cliff is likely to throw the U.S. economy into another recession.

And that's the idea -- create a scenario so unacceptable that it would force Republicans and Democrats to reach a compromise. It's the plan both parties agreed to when they couldn't reach an agreement in 2011.

So it's disconcerting to hear Murray talk about a strategy that starts with setting the automatic spending and tax cuts into motion.

But just this week, she was telling CNN's Soledad O'Brien and ABC's This Week that if Republicans are unwilling to compromise on tax increases for wealthy Americans, Congress should drive the nation over the fiscal cliff.

That way, Democrats could draft legislation to reinstate cuts for the middle class and Republicans wouldn't dare oppose it. The end result -- the rich pay more and the rest of us don't.

It's a dangerous way to get what she wants. Even if adjustments could later be made to soften the predicted $600 billion hit to the economy, some damage would occur. Given the fragile nature of America's financial recovery, all damage should be avoided.

Even worse, it signals an unwillingness to compromise before talks even start.

Granted, it's difficult to know exactly what Speaker of the House John Boehner has in mind when he says Republicans are "willing to accept some new revenue."

Anti-tax guru Grover Norquist recently appeared on CBS This Morning, claiming Republicans only will accept increased revenue that comes from economic growth, not higher taxes.

But in a column that appeared in the Nov. 12 Financial Times, Glenn Hubbard, financial adviser to Mitt Romney's campaign, describes a party that's willing to make actual concessions.

"The first step is to raise average (not marginal) tax rates on upper-income taxpayers," he wrote. "Revenues should come first from these individuals."

He even identifies some options -- closing tax loopholes and capping popular deductions, such as those for mortgage interest, charitable giving and employer-provided health plans.

It's not the marginal tax increase on incomes over $250,000 that Democrats have pushed for, but the net result is wealthy Americans will contribute more.

That's worth talking about.

Murray and everyone else in Congress needs to be willing to reach a compromise on dealing with our deficit. Talks between congressional leaders and the White House scheduled for today ought to start with everything on the table -- everything except looking at a drop over the fiscal cliff as a good strategy for avoiding compromise.

Americans know that the only way to stop our mounting debt from crippling future generations is to expect less from government and pay more.

It's up to our national leaders to find the necessary balance.