The election was more than a month ago, but hearing what's coming out of Washington, and from Utah's congressional delegation, you would think we are entering the campaign's homestretch.
The reason for the elevated, often acerbic, rhetoric? Congress and the president's inability so far to compromise on how to deal with the approaching fiscal cliff, a certain-to-be-painful combination of tax increases and more than $1 trillion in cuts to the federal budget, the slashes split between defense and domestic programs.
As The Salt Lake Tribune's Matt Canham reported, President Barack Obama and congressional leaders seem to be near agreement on dodging the deep cuts, known as "sequestration." Increasing taxes? That's something else entirely.
Canham and Thomas Burr, the other player on our Washington, D.C., team, are good at this explaining complicated and contentious issues facing the president and Congress, and fleshing out the debate and the positions of the Utah delegation. The big question right now: How to avoid the cliff.
Some of the posturing, again from Canham's reports:
• Sen. Orrin Hatch on Obama's tax plan, including raising rates on the wealthiest, "a classic bait-and-switch on the American people."
• Rep. Jason Chaffetz: "I know the president won an election, but so did I. He may think he has the wind at his back, but I got elected to stand on principle, too."
• And Rep. Rob Bishop, tersely responding to the question of how Congress will deal with the so-called cliff, "I don't have a clue."
One solution, which is hardly a lasting solution, coming from Utah's delegation including Rep. Jim Matheson and Sen. Mike Lee is to do nothing and extend the status quo until sometime in 2013.
So here we are, a few weeks from the Jan. 1 deadline, when taxes on millions of middle-class Americans could rise by thousands of dollars, and lawmakers from Utah and elsewhere "don't have a clue" on how to work through the country's fiscal dilemma, a predicament they imposed on themselves when compromise eluded them in an earlier budget showdown.
In times like these, it is vital for Utahns to hear directly from the people elected to represent them in Washington. So Tribune readers should be on the lookout for Burr and Canham's bylines. Canham provided excellent explanatory reporting during the health-care debate. Burr is well-known in our pages and on our website for the Utah and Mormon angles he covered in Mitt Romney's presidential run.
With Canham and Burr on the case, we have committed to bird-dog and watchdog our representatives and to let readers know not only how they vote but also their reasons behind those votes.
The coverage gets noticed in Utah. The two are regulars on our front page and sltrib.com's home page. Their newsletter/blog, Political Cornflakes, is a must top-of-the-morning read for anyone following Utah politics.
The coverage also gets recognized nationally. Burr recently received word that he was elected into the Gridiron Club, an elite corps of 65 D.C. journalists known for their accomplishments and expertise in covering politics. At age 33, Burr will be the youngest member. According to Politico, no one in the club can say if he's the youngest ever, but he might be. "We have members who remember FDR," mused president George Condon.
When Burr's hair turns gray he says it's happening already he will be able to say he, too, covered history: The nation's first African-American president doing battle with tea party and other Republicans, both sides taking the country perilously close to, perhaps over, the cliff.
Terry Orme is a Tribune managing editor. Reach him at email@example.com.