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The Trouble With Last Minute Solutions to Long Term Problems

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Usually, I write my copy the same morning I read it on the air. But here's something I can write several weeks in advance:

"There are just a few days left before we go over the fiscal cliff and there is still no deal in Washington."

Get ready for it because if recent history is any guide, it going to happen. Just think of what we've experienced over the last four years.

The deal to avoid hitting the federal debt ceiling didn't happen until long after the debt ceiling had been hit. The Treasury Department had to start shuffling money around, just to pay its bills until Congress finally reached a deal. That was less than 48 hours before the government would have had to decide whether to stop paying social security recipients or government workers.

TARP -- a bailout package worth more than $700 billion -- was passed in a hurry, after it was voted down. And it was passed after just two weeks of debate because the economy was collapsing without it. That's far less time than we've been debating federal funding for public broadcasting, and $700 billion would keep Big Bird on the air for the next 1,573 years.

Perhaps Congress loves a crisis -- because it's easier to make tough decisions when you're between a rock and a hard place (or maybe I should say "standing on the edge of a cliff.")

But here's what's at stake if we do go over the cliff, according to Mohamed El-Erian, the CEO of the world's largest bond fund, PIMCO:

"We would contract by one to two percent. Our unemployment rate -- stuck at 7.9 percent -- would go up to at least nine percent. Our long-term unemployed, currently 41 percent of the unemployed, would be unemployed for even longer resulting in greater atrophy. Our youth unemployment, we have 24 percent of 16-19-year-olds out of jobs, would go up. And at that age, if you are unemployed for a while, you become unemployable -- meaning a lost generation."

That is not a risk Washington should be taking. Yes, we have a debt problem, and yes, it needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. But El-Erian rightly says that the fiscal cliff was never designed to go into effect as it is. It's too blunt an instrument. It is too broad and indiscriminate.

We need to have serious adults craft a serious and balanced plan for the next decade that will give markets confidence that we can bring our debt under control -- and that will give Americans confidence that we're doing so in a fair way.

Solutions to long term problems that will impact every American -- and people all over the world -- should not be crafted in a matter of hours or days. Politicians in Washington need to think about the big picture, and not solve our long-term debt problem like a student cramming for an exam she's not prepared for.

If they can do that, I'll be more than happy to re-write my copy.