Today is Monday, December 31, 2012…the day the country OFFICIALLY steps to the edge of the fiscal cliff.
For those of you who may have a life outside politics; the fiscal cliff is a combination of self imposed spending cuts and tax increases designed to scare the beejeezus out of legislators and force them to deal substantively with the country’s debt and deficit. Naturally, Washington has waited until the eleventh hour to have any meaningful dialogue on the matter. Consequently, as the midnight deadline approaches, it appears that the final episode of the 112th Congressional Clown Show will produce little more than a temporary agreement to keep middle class tax cuts from rising while tabling the core issues of our fiscal mess (defense, entitlements, tax reform) until the debt ceiling debate in February.
We cannot express strongly enough how utterly irresponsible this congress has been in legislating this matter.
This problem was a decade in the making. It started when the Bush administration passed the infamous “Bush Tax Cuts” without establishing any means to pay for them.
The Obama administration continued this flawed policy by extending the expiring tax cuts for an additional two years while once again making no effort to offset them with spending cuts. In an effort to bring the matter to a conclusion congress agreed to the “sequestration” tax increases and spending cuts that are set to take effect at midnight tonight. This “fiscal cliff’ deadline was set two years ago. For two years we have watched Washington lawmakers avoid the issue; placing their own political self interest ahead of the well being of the country.
The truth of the matter is no one in Washington…from the president on down…is willing to make the tough political decisions necessary to place our fiscal house in order.
Once upon a time the president established the Simpson-Bowles Commission to develop a plan to reduce our debt and deficit. But when the commission published its findings the president barely cracked the spine on the report.
The Republicans ripped the president for ignoring the findings of his own commission. They praised Simpson-Bowles as sound basis for curing the county’s financial woes. But when it came time to negotiate they ran away from the $2.6 trillion in revenue increases in the SB report and offered the president a meager $800 billion.
Democrats in congress say they are serious about reducing the debt. But they won’t touch three of the four biggest drivers of our long term financial obligations: Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Republicans in congress say they are serious about reducing the debt. But they continue to feed a bloated defense budget; ordering aircraft, missiles and vessels that the pentagon says they don’t want or need. All to cater to local defense contractors back home.
Democrats want to solve our financial problems by raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans…even though the increased revenue from those tax increases will only run the country for 7 or 8 days.
Republicans say they don’t want to raise taxes on anyone. Yet they are willing to watch taxes go up on everyone rather than raise the rates on 2% of Americans while keeping rates the same for the remaining 98% of the country.
So how does this happen?
Tom Brokaw says it happens because: “The system is rigged. Seventy-five percent of the members of congress come from gerrymandered districts in which they are bulletproof.” In other words they are more concerned with local politics and their prospects for re-election than they are the national good.
Republican Senator Tom Coburn says that it happens:” Because congress no longer functions the way the founders intended. Deals are done in backrooms. It used to be that bills were brought to the floor. They were amended and then voted on. If the passed they were sent to the other chamber…where they were amended. They went to conference. And then they were sent to the president for signature. But that doesn’t happen anymore. Bills aren’t put on the floor because everyone is afraid to cast a vote that may get them sent back home.”
We agree that both of these scenarios are instrumental in developing the gridlock that permeates Washington. We also believe that there is a lack of leadership. Boehner and Reid have combined to make this 112th congress the most inept and impotent congress in our history. But the president must shoulder his part of the blame as well. It’s not enough to be right on policy. You have to sell it. And while we understand that this president is loathe crawling into the trenches of everyday politics…that’s his job.
But the blame for our financial difficulties does not stem solely from Washington politics and gridlock. The American people must bear their share of the blame as well. Because it is the American people who penalize Democrats if they dare suggest modifications to entitlements. It is the American people who penalize Republicans if they dare to raise taxes.
The ugly truth of the matter is that the American people have demonstrated that they are more than willing to “saddle our children with the burden of our debt” if the debt reducing alternative is the elimination of programs or the reduction of benefits that they receive now.
How does this happen?
There is plenty of blame to go around.