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November 13, 2012

U.S. inches closer to edge of 'fiscal cliff'

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The Daily Star

---- — I’m not sure who came up with the term “fiscal cliff,” but it has been bouncing around for decades with one meaning or another. Now, with looming spending cuts and an end to tax cuts at the end of the year, the phrase has become a fearful household word.

The experts do not necessarily agree on what the impact would be if President Obama and House Republicans don’t come up with a compromise agreement. That unknown has markets jittery and people scared.

Some warn of the loss of 3 million jobs as the economy takes a nosedive, effectively ending the slow progress out of recession. The tax hikes and spending cuts, they say, would be too drastic a move all at once to get out of our deficit hole.

Others say a plunge over the austerity cliff is just what we need, and that the economy in the short term would have a soft landing. No one seems optimistic about the long term.

For that reason, our leaders, Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, need to work out a deal that does not hurt the people who are already reeling from the recession. It is clear that trickle-down economics do not spur growth as much as incentives to middle-class spending.

Obama is right to insist on eliminating the tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 a year. The rich should contribute more to healing our deficit problem.

The president last week said the turmoil and uncertainty in the markets and for employers could be mitigated if the House moves quickly to extend the tax cuts for all but the wealthy. The Senate already has passed its own version of the bill.

The expiring tax cuts, approved during the George W. Bush presidency, would affect income, investments, married couples and families with children, and inheritances. Also on the block are unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless and Obama’s temporary 2 percent cut in payroll taxes. There also would be a sharp cut in reimbursements for doctors participating in Medicare.

The budget cuts, the result of the previous failures of the White House and Congress to reach agreement on trimming the national debt and revamping taxes, would be painful in many corners and there is plenty of pressure for compromise.

We’re talking about a 9 percent or $55 billion cut in defense spending and another $55 billion in cuts to domestic programs.

Any deal in Washington is sure to soften the blow of these cuts, and it is important that it be directed at those most in need.

Now that voters in Colorado and Washington state have legalized marijuana use, it is time for New York state to move forward and legitimize medical marijuana use as a first step to legalization.

The ballot measures allow adults 21 or older to possess up to an ounce of pot. In Colorado, adults can have up to six marijuana plants. Of course, the laws don’t mean people can walk down streets smoking joints and pipes. Use in public remains illegal, just as most alcohol laws forbid having open containers in public.

Both states plan to pursue regulations governing the commercial sale of marijuana, with resultant tax revenues going to state programs such as school construction and health initiatives.

According to NORML, a national organization dedicated to reforming marijuana laws, more than 20 million Americans have been arrested for marijuana offenses since 1965. The group insists the time has come to amend criminal prohibition and replace it with a system of legalization, taxation, regulation and education.

Now, Gaia, a Colorado-based medical-marijuana manufacturer and seller, has hired an Albany PR firm to get the ball rolling more quickly in New York. Last week, Massachusetts became the 18th state to approve the use of pot for medical reasons. New York is surrounded by other such states: New Jersey, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Though Gov. Andrew Cuomo is lukewarm about the idea, state Sen. Diane Savino of Staten Island told the New York Post that ``we’re going to negotiate this bill with the wind at our backs. There’s tremendous support to legalize medical marijuana in New York. It’s inevitable.’’

Cary Brunswick, of Oneonta, is a freelance writer and editor. He can be reached at brunswick@earthling.net. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of The Daily Star and its editorial board.