It would be asking too much for the lame-duck Congress and White House to reach a long-term deal to reduce the federal deficit. But at the very least, they can and should do what is necessary to avert the "fiscal cliff" in January, while laying the groundwork for a "grand bargain" next year on taxes and entitlement programs such as Social Security.
There is a laundry list of smaller, less controversial changes that can realistically be hammered out in the next five weeks to sidestep the fiscal cliff the combination of gigantic tax hikes and spending cuts that could stop the economic recovery in its tracks.
Better yet, many of these smaller fixes previously have been identified by Congress and independent commissions and have broad support among Democrats and Republicans, reports David Lightman of the McClatchy Newspapers bureau in Washington, D.C.
Possibilities include requiring federal employees to pay more into their pensions and limiting cost-of-living increases. Given the public pension reform trend in California and other states, these changes seem well worth considering.
There are also proposals to make corporations provide more funding for the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., which is supposed to make sure that workers get what they've earned despite underfunded corporate pension funds.
Other suggestions involve cost savings in the federal farm program and trims on the margins of Medicare and Medicaid. In any deficit-cutting deals, there has to be balance between revenue and spending, and protection for the most needy.
White House and congressional staffs are expected to outline a framework for negotiations this week. Approval of some smaller changes would start to turn the trend lines on federal spending. Just as importantly, agreement could create some good will among President Barack Obama and congressional leaders for the difficult decisions ahead.
For this to work, our elected leaders in Washington have to compromise for the good of the country. That has been all too rare lately.