Talk of our impending dive over the Fiscal Cliff is everywhere. But, unlike a hurricane preparing to wreak havoc as it races towards land, this is not inevitable. In fact, it is patently avoidable—all it takes is a bill to pass both houses of Congress and President Obama's signature on the bottom. Speaker Boehner appealed to the heavens for answers saying, “How we get there, God only knows.” However, to borrow from Shakespeare, the fault dear Speaker lies not in our stars, but in yourselves. Yourselves being Republican lawmakers, whose policies led to our spiraling debt, but now reject balanced attempts to control it.
Let us remind ourselves why we are in this mess. President Clinton left office with multi-trillion dollar budget surpluses projected for the next decade. After September 11th, federal spending increased as we overhauled our national security infrastructure and financed two wars. George W. Bush became the only president in our history to cut taxes during wartime. Yes, the federal government drastically reduced the revenue it was bringing in as expenditures soared. The Great Recession of 2008, caused in no small part by the Republican-backed decrease of oversight and regulation of our banks and financial institutions, further reduced revenues coming into our Treasury as the economy slowed and made more Americans need a helping hand from government.
Last year, the Congressional “super committee” charged with balancing our budget failed to reach a compromise that would have put our fiscal house in order, or at least out of disrepair. When the committee was established to address our spiraling debt, a poison pill provision was included to force automatic tax increases on everyone and spur cuts to both the military and government programs alike beginning on January 1, 2013. The prospect of swallowing the poison pill—the fiscal cliff -- deemed objectionable to Democrats and Republicans alike, was supposed to force a compromise involving a combination of raising revenues through tax increases (or rather, the repeal of irresponsible tax cuts) and cutting spending. Unfortunately, due to Tea Party ideologues like Paul Ryan, no such deal was made.
This paralysis continued through the election, as Republicans, many of whom are beholden to the likes of Grover Norquist, could not bring themselves to support raising taxes—on anyone.
President Obama won reelection, after campaigning on a balanced proposal that would restore the Clinton-era marginal tax rate on Americans earning over $250,000 a year, while also making military and spending cuts. Under this proposal, taxes would not go up for 98 percent of American families. Recognizing the difficulty of getting this proposal through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, President Obama agreed to the prospect of raising the threshold to families earning above $400,000 a year. However, this proposal would most likely go nowhere as Speaker Boehner proved unable to secure enough votes from his own Republican members in the House for his “Plan B” proposal raising taxes only on families making more than $1,000,000 a year.
That leads us to now, where we appear poised to go over the fiscal cliff in three days. Going over the fiscal cliff would bring tax increases to people in the all income brackets. It would end unemployment benefits for 40 percent of recipients, raise capital gains taxes for people making over $50,000 a year and force cuts to the military and government spending in vital fields like education, security, education, and infrastructure. It would impose austerity and may well plunge the economy into another recession. It would be a horrible outcome for everyone.
It is telling that the Republicans would rather trigger tax increases on everyone than restore the slightly higher marginal tax rates of the 1990s on just the wealthiest Americans. They are terrified of being on record as having voted to raise taxes and their behavior indicates that they would prefer higher taxes and cuts to be triggered by virtue of their inaction, even if it plunges the economy into another recession. This highlights the Republican Party’s greater concern for the interests of ideological anti-tax fanatics, than the greater good of the country, including the vast majority of voters who elected them to office. It shows that a party claiming to be driven by fiscal responsibility will forsake its core values in pursuit of ideological zealotry and partisan obstructionism.
President Obama flew back from Hawaii and the Senate has been hard at work trying to avert the fiscal cliff. Unfortunately, the House will not reconvene until Sunday at 6:30 p.m., leaving little time to reach a deal. Hopefully, House Republicans will put country first and find a willingness to repeal the Bush tax cuts on some Americans in the top 2 percent as part of a balanced approach to deficit reduction. 100 percent of Americans will be affected otherwise. Yet, if politics are motivating House Republicans to obstruct, let it be known that the American people are not stupid. Polls show that Congressional Republicans will bear the brunt of the blame if we go down the fiscal cliff.