Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell Saved America From Fiscal Cliff

The fiscal cliff deal is the result of Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell rolling up their sleeves and getting the job done.

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Vice President Joe Biden, right, shakes hands with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, before speaking at the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville in Louisville, Ky., Friday, Feb. 11, 2011.

Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have known each other in the Senate for nearly 30 years. They have served together under five presidents. They know and understand one another. They know what makes the other tick. 

Despite the clear differences in philosophy, despite the politics, despite the anger, despite the polarization of the parties, these two pros understood what was at stake and what needed to be done. And they were able to craft a deal that was passed overwhelmingly in the Senate and with votes to spare in the House. Because they had a long-standing relationship and respected one another the deal got done.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the fiscal cliff.]

Thank goodness.

This was a bit of the old Senate, where I served as a staffer in the 1970s. Both parties would find a way to come together on the crucial problems and actually pass legislation that mattered. These senators were not just colleagues but many of them true friends. Party politics mattered but not as much as the personal relationships they had, the bond they had, the mutual understanding that existed.

You won some and you lost some. On the good days you had the votes, on the bad days you didn't. 

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

But at the end of the day, you took pride in legislating and accomplishing and actually getting things done. When you lost, you most likely would come back later and try again. You would persuade and cajole and horse-trade. Sure, you would tilt at a few windmills, but your job was to move the nation forward. If you were a strict obstructionist you didn't last long in the Senate in those days.

What we saw this last week was a deep commitment on very difficult issues to come together. For those who are naysayers on this deal think about what it did. It tackled raising tax rates on wealthy Americans and preserved tax breaks for 98 percent; it solved the contentious issues of inheritance taxes and capital gains taxes; it dealt with the farm bill; it extended unemployment benefits; it dealt with the "doc fix"; it extended the Child Care Tax Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit, the college tax credit.  As we say, not easy stuff.  Not small stuff.

[See 2012: The Year in Cartoons.]

Sure, you can focus on things that did not get done but will, hopefully, be tackled in the next several months. Tax reform, entitlements, more budget cuts, investments in education and energy, more to help the economy.

But Mitch McConnell and Joe Biden deserve our thanks and our appreciation for rolling up their sleeves and getting the job done. This is what legislating and compromising for the greater good are all about. Two old bulls who know each other and know how to move the ball down the road. Two old bulls who, thank God, have been down that road more than a few times.  And, undoubtedly, will do so again.

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