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As congressional moderates diminish, the moment to act on fiscal cliff is now

The upcoming 113th class of Congress looks like it will remain as divided, if not more so, than today’s group. That is, unless more brave Republican representatives step up to the centrist plate – as some are currently attempting in an effort to avoid driving the country off the “fiscal cliff.”

Make no mistake, Democrats are equally obliged to find the middle, and nothing demonstrates that urgency as much as what is happening right now. If no bipartisan compromise is reached by Dec. 31, dramatic tax increases and severe automatic budget cuts will occur.

So far, those Republicans pulling away from the no-new-tax-ever pledge made to lobbyist Grover Norquist range from the House majority leader to Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning.

Reed is a member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee and, as reported, a bridge between GOP leadership and lawmakers elected with tea-party backing. He echoed a growing feeling among his Republican colleagues when declaring the pledge “is not a barrier to a deal.”

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that he does not believe in “iron-clad positions” like the one made to Norquist’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, on Sunday’s “This Week” on ABC, perhaps summed it best: “The only pledge we should be making to each other is to avoid becoming Greece.” He added something that might soothe worried minds: “And Republicans should put revenue on the table.”

Democrats, too, are stepping up. Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, urged his liberal allies to support a broad deficit deal that would include reductions in Medicare and other entitlements.

“We can’t be so naive to believe that just taxing the rich will solve our problems,” he told the Center for American Progress, an influential liberal organization. “Put everything on the table. Repeat. Everything on the table.”

That was an important statement coming from so highly placed a Democrat, and appropriate to the crisis that awaits if Congress does not turn away from the fiscal cliff. Each side will have to give up something it values for any deal to work.

Democrats tried that last year, when President Obama offered budget cuts to accompany tax increases on wealthy Americans, but Republicans slapped it away. Maybe this time, stung by the results of this month’s elections, GOP members will make a more sober assessment of the issues.

More than a few talking heads have been sounding off about the grave implications if both parties fail to find compromise. Among the most startling predictions, from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, is that the fiscal cliff’s automatic tax increases and spending cuts – removing about $500 billion out of the economy in one year alone – could tip the nation back into recession.

Meantime, the loss of nearly half of the House of Representatives’ centrist Blue Dog Democrats and several moderate House Republicans is downright depressing. The change comes at a time when there will be more women and fewer tea party-backed Republican House members from 2010 who couldn’t graduate to a second term. Records are being set with 73 women in the House and 20 in the Senate, but such achievements may be eclipsed by the moderates departing the stage.

The situation is far from the “good old days” when (mostly) men of diametrically opposed views could reach across the aisle. (Think Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan, who were able to work together for the good of the country despite their famous personal digs at one another.)

The current class of Republicans did little for the country. Their myopic focus on spending cuts alone, together with their disdain for Obama, overrode all other issues, from health care to the budget deficit. The upcoming class, even absent notable moderates, must meet in the middle. Other cliffs await.