POLITICAL NONSENSE SURROUNDING FISCAL CLIFF
The political nonsense surrounding the fiscal cliff would be comical were it not so tragic for the American people. On the brink of the single largest tax increase in American history, one that will send our dysfunctional national economy reeling back into a recession and may well cause over 1 million people to lose their jobs, neither the President nor any member of Congress has risen to command the national stage and provide a detailed rescue plan. Instead, no one leads; everyone seeks to apportion blame. The few who do engage in serious discussion seek to achieve a temporary fix rather than an overall solution.
The President and Senator Harry Reid view a fall off the fiscal cliff as an opportunity to achieve political gains; the public, amazingly, holds the Republicans in the House more responsible for the failure to achieve agreement than they do the President and the Senate Majority Leader. The politics of delay and denial push solutions to the crisis down an increasingly treacherous road, inviting tangible evidence of hardship all across the nation. It appears that the nation must suffer grievously under the weight of a collapse of the economy and of welfare state services before sober thinking will come to the fore.
Obama and Reid know that if January 1 comes with taxes raised on all, the President and Democratic leadership will be well positioned to present themselves as the savior of the Middle Class by proposing a tax reduction for those earning less than $250,000 per year at a time when public outcry for tax relief will be at a fever pitch. At such a point majoritarian will leads to a reduction in tax for those who comprise the largest part of the electorate, leaving the wealthiest without the political clout necessary to derail the tax increase affecting them. That crass political gamesmanship is derelict precisely because it does nothing to address the underlying dynamics that bring the nation down. With the leap off the fiscal cliff, the pressure then will be considerable on the Republican House to accede to the President’s demands to achieve relief for the bulk of the electorate who will swiftly vote uncooperative Republicans out of office (or so the Democratic majority thinks). Whether Republicans break ranks and vote into place a middle class tax cut in the first quarter of the New Year or hold fast and block an attempt to pass such a measure, they will be made the popular whipping boys and girls, blamed for their failure to accede to the President’s demands before the leap off the fiscal cliff.
The Republicans do hold a trump card, if they are willing to play it. The debt ceiling limit is fast approaching. To derail the President’s plan to raise taxes on all earning $250,000 and more per year, Republicans can refuse to accede to an increase in the debt ceiling (an increase that will be demanded by the administration shortly after the new year). By holding fast and refusing to increase the debt ceiling, Republicans can force the President to alter his tax increase demand and to accept spending cuts. In the end the wrangling on both sides will likely produce a temporary resolution of the political conflict but no serious change in the debt crisis.
Of course, raising taxes on the highest income earners will raise revenue insufficient to put even the tiniest dent in the national debt but will soak up much capital otherwise available to support existing and new jobs. The long term prospect will remain bleak with unemployment climbing and no end in sight to the even greater expansion of entitlements.
For the short term, this gamesmanship may work in lowering Republican prospects. That is particularly true because, mind numbingly, not a single Republican leader has championed a national movement to adopt a specific program of reformations based on founding principles of limited government, separation of powers, individual sovereignty, and free enterprise. All seem afraid to embrace a principled stand to restore the government to its affordable foundations. None is willing to make him or herself a potential sacrifice for the greater good of the country. Hedonism reigns.
Ironically, while the immediate political advantage goes to the President, the ultimate blame deservedly placed on the President will go to him. As the economy moves from one step forward and two steps back to no step forward and three steps back, Americans will increasingly come to realize that the single person whose office is best suited for uniting divergent interests in an effort to bring about practical solutions to the debt crisis abandoned that role, using the fate of the nation as a political crutch to wield against his party opponents rather than an opportunity to bring the nation together behind a serious set of measures to reduce the size, scope, and cost of the federal government. Of course, Obama’s politics of planned economies and European style socialism is antithetical to America’s founding principles and Constitution, so we ought not expect him to offer a solution. But what of the Republicans? One would certainly expect that among the Republican leadership at least one would champion the founding truths, but not a one rises to the occasion.
Lost in all of the wrangling and posturing is a sincere regard for the fate of the United States. The quest for personal gain and political power has so outpaced love of country that the latter appears to those in power as a quaint relic of a bygone era. Aware that federal government growth is unsustainable, that the national debt will continue to rise to levels that ensure a further downgrading of the nation’s credit rating, that higher rates of interest on the national debt are around the corner, and that revenues needed to finance the exploding growth of entitlements are not there, politicians do not behave as patriots.
In these dire times, one would expect elected representatives to cleave to a specific rescue plan, campaign for popular support of it, and call on an alarmed citizenry to voice their concerns and march on Washington, demanding resolution of the greatest fiscal crisis in American history. Instead, the call is not “to arms, to arms” but “to parties, to parties,” as members celebrate the holidays in the same way they have year after year as if each were Nero fiddling while Rome burns.
When the time for accounting comes, and come it will, there will be much pain across the nation because of this mass abdication of governance. Weaker financially, we will be weaker militarily and, so, tested as never before. Rather than lead us away from disaster, our representatives in Washington are fellow travelers on the train that is headed to disaster. Disaster will thus come. It will then awaken the electorate to the reality that the promise of government to care for all was a lie, beyond the means of the government. It will awaken the electorate to the reality that the engine of progress that uplifts mankind is the free market. It will awaken the electorate to the eternal truth of Thomas Paine, written on September 12, 1777, that “those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it.” It will awaken the electorate, finally, to the realization that the burden of supporting government only to be a slave to the dictates of self-interested politicians is far greater than the burden of finding one’s own way in the market where we remain free to choose our own course.