We all have seen the movie in which the hero dramatically races against time only to be confronted with a choice of cutting the red wire or the blue one to defuse the bomb. The hero diffidently chooses one and the clock's counter stops ticking with one or two seconds to spare. There is a collective exhale and, lo and behold, the world is saved.
This hackneyed image reminds us of Congress' recent "fiscal cliff" negotiations, with a couple of major differences: In the real-life version, there are no heroes and the reprieve is ever so temporary.
As details of the congressional deal that was finally passed New Year's night continue to seep out, we remain appalled at the process that spawned it and deeply concerned that it is more of the "kicking the can down the road" with which we Californians have become so familiar.
This certainly is not the first time that such a major deal was hammered out in just a few hours of hard work. Nor will it be the last. Unfortunately, we expect a sequel to this dreadful drama in a couple of months as Congress, once again, wrestles with whether to raise the debt ceiling.
In fact, it was last year's compromise agreement on the debt-ceiling issue that created the fiscal cliff deadline in the first place.
While this deal allows for collective exhale -- manifest in the performance of the stock market Wednesday -- it is not anywhere close to a solution. Seasoned Wall Street pros and business owners know the nation's economy remains significantly at risk.
For example, the deal does not raise the debt ceiling, which forces Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to use "extraordinary measures" to pay the nation's bills and requires Congress to revisit the issue by March to avoid the first default in U.S. history. It also allows a temporary payroll tax cut to expire, which we believe will take money out of the hands of the consuming public and is likely to slow an already sluggish economy.
But the most significant issue left unaddressed is the long-term fiscal solvency of the country. The deal fails to meaningfully address the tsunami of baby boomer retirees that will occur over the next decade or so, especially as it relates to health care costs.
The best aspect of this deal, however, is that -- to some extent, at least -- it is bipartisan. It demonstrates that members of Congress can actually find common ground, as long as there is a clock ticking somewhere in the background.
The deal also renews long-term unemployment benefits that would have otherwise expired, which should elicit a sigh of relief from about 2 million people out of work more than six months.
And it averts massive tax increases that were being faced by middle-class Americans while raising about $600 billion in new revenues from the wealthiest among us, which should help prevent the nation from sliding back into a recession.
While we share the collective relief that the bomb's clock has stopped ticking, we know there will be a sequel and we dread it.