While in a post-turkey daze this past holiday weekend, I believe I've come up with the perfect answer to one of the key political dilemmas Congress is facing right now, as we all race towards the lip of the "fiscal cliff" -- Congress needs a legislative time warp.
By this, I do not mean I expect Congress will suddenly exceed the speed of light (pause for riotous audience laughter...), but instead that Congress needs to do more of a Rocky Horror type of "Time Warp" -- an absurdist dance step which seems rather bizarre and pointless to the uninitiated, but which could be a fun way out of a twist in the plot line. As the song says: "Time is fleeting. Madness takes its toll."
Allow me to explain. While Republicans in Congress are making tentative noises about the possibility of "raising revenues" in whatever deal is struck, they are dogmatically forced to fight against "raising tax rates" on anyone, at any time, for any reason. These minions of Norquist know full well the forces which will be arrayed against them come primary season, should they vote against the sacred pledge they've all signed. Lord Norquist frowns upon raising tax rates, therefore they must not raise tax rates. The furies of the Tea Party will descend upon them otherwise, and they know it.
Not to belittle the tenets of their faith. Because "faith" or "dogma" is the correct term to use. Any man's creed is laughable by those who don't share the same faith, because dogma never can stand up to critical analysis or logical examination. You need look no further for proof of this than the position congressional Republicans find themselves in on the tax rate question. If they vote for a bill on the last day of December which "raises" the tax rate on the top two percent of earners, then they are apostates and will be cast into the void by the Norquistians. If, however, they vote for exactly the same bill on the first of January, this would be allowable by the dictates of their faith because the status quo will have changed and they will now be voting to lower taxes. Not one word of the bill need change, except perhaps the date stamped at the top of it.
Since the tax rates go up for everyone at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, it is an automatic event uninfluenced by their actions, they reason. If they vote for the deal before then (as they see it), they will have voted for taxes to "go up" on two percent of the population -- a mortal sin. If they vote for the deal after this magic point, then they're voting to lower taxes from the new rates (actually, the "old, pre-Bush rates") and it will have the blessings of the Church of Norquist.
There's a way out of this mess. It's an easy one, really, although it does require some suspension of disbelief on everyone's part. Just change the date on the floor of Congress. No, not the date on the bill, the actual date.
Here's where we enter into the science-fiction nature of my suggestion. Congress has all sorts of deadlines it meets throughout the year. Some of these deadlines happen at midnight on a certain day, and some of these deadlines are more nebulous, such as holding a vote open for fifteen minutes. At times, Congress runs into problems meeting these deadlines by the proper minute. So they just "warp" time. Instead of following the real-world clock the rest of the planet is using, they tinker with the "official congressional clock" inside the chambers -- creating their own timeline, in a way.
Say a vote is happening, but the Speaker of the House knows three more votes are needed. Instead of time running out after the mandated fifteen minutes, the legislative clock is stopped at 14 minutes in (think of a football game clock stopping between plays, perhaps). Arms are twisted, votes are marshalled, and when the votes are in, the clock is allowed to move forward again. At times, this involves a physical clock on the wall which is simply unplugged, but is usually just a handy legislative fiction employed to dance around a hard deadline. At times, the legislative clock is stopped at 11:59 in the evening, and Congress just keeps voting through the night until the objective is reached -- after which the clock will be reset to real-world time once again. Sometimes the clock is even set backwards, to meet a deadline which has already passed. It's Congress' clock, after all, so they're free to do whatever they wish with it.
My suggestion is to work this legislative magic in the other direction. This way, on the floors of Congress, we can "go off the cliff" without really going off the cliff. This would mean that Wall Street wouldn't freak out and every payroll department in the country wouldn't have to go apoplectic over changing tax rates twice within a few days. House Republicans can have their Norquist cake and eat it too, to put it another way.
Congress can convene on some date at the end of the year -- say, Friday, December 28, for instance. They can all unanimously consent to warping not only the clock but the calendar as well, and officially declare the legislative date to now be the first of January. Rather than opening champagne and celebrating the dawn of 2013, instead they will then begin to vote. Since -- legislatively -- it will be beyond the end of the year, the Republicans can rest assured that voting for the compromise deal which raises tax rates on the wealthiest of Americans won't incur the wrath of Norquist. By their logic, remember, they're now voting for a tax rate reduction for 98 percent of the people. The bill can pass, President Obama can sign it, and there will be no gap in the real world's timeline between when 2012 ends and when the new bill takes effect.
In other words, America can go over the fiscal cliff without really going over the fiscal cliff. This is a little surreal (and even downright silly), I fully realize. But I think it'd be a winning solution for all sides of the argument. President Obama could get the deal he wants. Republicans can warp time to avoid the Norquist Conundrum, and still remain conservatively pure of heart and deed. Wall Street will "look the other way" while it happens, with a sigh of relief. And nobody in the entire country will get a paycheck with a huge tax hike -- except the 2 percent of workers which are the target of the deal. Congresscritters can scurry off home for the holiday and not have to work late on New Year's Eve in some sort of showdown session. Late night comics will have plenty fodder for jokes for the next few weeks. It would truly be "win-win" all around.
There is nothing to stop Congress from warping time to their liking, as insane as that sounds. Or perhaps that should be "insay-ay-ay-ayne" as it sounds. Everybody sing along: "Let's do the Time Warp again! It's just a jump to the left... and then a step to the right...."
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