Marching Off the Fiscal Cliff
Lost in the fog of neocon distortions about the impending sequestrations is the bigger issue of the fiscal cliff towards which Congress is blissfully marching. It’s more than the $1.2 trillion sequestration; it’s the lapse of a number of tax and stimulus programs, none of which seem to be on Congress’s horizon. And the concatenation of those various deadlines could be devastating.
Right now, sequestration (a/k/a The Big, Dumb Spending Cuts) is getting all of the attention. It’s a classic illustration of the precept that success has a thousand fathers, but failure is always an orphan. Sequestration was the pistol Congress held to its own head to make the Super Committee work. The metaphoric pistol was an across-the-board cut of $1.2 trillion in federal spending over 9 years. “Across-the-board” means that it’s proportionate to federal spending in each federal program, with half coming out of defense and half coming out of non-defense spending, with Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security exempted. In the case of the Department of Defense, the tab is $500 million the first year.
The Super Committee was supposed to resolve Congress’s budget and debt ceiling impasses. If it failed, Congress created that $1.2 trillion worth of dire consequences. This “compromise” was an idea that arose in the Republican-controlled House. (Senator Lindsey Graham (R., SC): “What was our Republican leadership thinking when they agreed to the concept of sequestration?”) As dire as that $1.2 trillion may appear now, it wasn’t dire enough. The Super Committee failed. We now face the consequences. You can’t whack $1.2 trillion in federal spending without costing the country a lot of jobs. So the economic recovery is jeopardized.
On December 31, 2012, the Bush tax cuts are scheduled to expire. The payroll tax credit is scheduled to expire. A host of other government incentives and support for the economic recovery will expire. The cumulative effect of all these deadlines and their consequences has earned the nickname, “The Fiscal Cliff.” The Economic consequences of the Fiscal Cliff are very, very serious.
Right now, Congress is doing absolutely nothing about the Fiscal Cliff. instead, they are all focused on the important business of getting re-elected. Based, presumably, on the fine work they have done in marching the country over the Fiscal Cliff.
After the national election on November 6, a lame duck Congress will re-convene, and between that date and the holiday recess accomplish or fail to accomplish the business of avoiding the consequences of their damnfoolishness. No one, least of all WC, is even slightly confident that reason and good judgment will prevail. At best, Congress may be able bring itself to pass some kind of stop-gap bill, carrying the crisis over for the next Congress.
The presidential election is undoubtedly important. But there are three branches of government, and the executive branch is not the one that is dysfunctional. That would be the legislative branch: Congress.
It was Congress – specifically, the Republican-controlled House – that used a routine increase in the debt ceiling to blackmail the Senate into the chain of events that led to sequestration and the current crisis. But we aren’t attempting to fix the problem. Instead, we have a Republican presidential candidate who blames the Democratic candidate for the problem the Republican House of Representatives created.
Is WC the only one who thinks this isn’t likely to fix the real problem?