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Fiscal Cliff Takeaways From the Sunday News Shows

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Television networks devoted much of their Sunday news shows to the fiscal cliff -- and rightly so -- reflecting the urgency and importance of the topic.

For the most part, the shows discussed well-covered aspects where already there tends to be broad analytical agreement -- from the impact on the American economy of going over the cliff to legacy commitments that inhibit Democrats and Republicans from iterating more quickly to good compromise solutions.

The shows' decision to allocate scarce minutes to a well-trodden background is interesting in itself. It is not as though the threat of the fiscal cliff has just emerged. It has been on the 'important and urgent" radar screen for months now (e.g.,"The Fiscal Cliff Cometh" from last May. Yet Congressional dysfunction has stopped our political system from dealing with it in a timely and effective manner.

So, if you are one of those familiar with the fiscal cliff, did you end up wasting precious weekend hours watching shows that just covered familiar old ground? No.

Two guests were particularly insightful today.

Maya MacGuiness (Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget) rightly noted that greater certainty on the fiscal cliff could -- and should -- be viewed as the "cheapest form of stimulus" for an economy still struggling with mediocre growth, excessively high unemployment, and excessive income and wealth inequalities.

This is illustrates a broader and important point. Congress has slipped into a very unfortunate way of dealing with major decisions.

Rather than proactive, the decision-making process has become extremely reactive. It has lost most, if not all of the critical strategic underpinnings.

The numbers already point to a dramatic fall in congressional decisions at a time when America needs to navigate tricky domestic and global realignments. And the painful manner in which the few decisions are finally reached reduces the probability of subsequent good decision-making.

Rana Foroohar (Time magazine) added significant value to the discussion by introducing an important analytical counterfactual -- namely, what would have occurred if our politicians in Washington were not bickering and dithering.

She rightly noted that while America's economic situation is far from satisfactory, it sure is a lot better than that of the vast majority of other western countries. So, if we had overcome this home-made political dysfunction in a timely and proper manner, and given the amount of cash sitting idle on the sideline, the economy would have benefited in both a relative and absolute sense -- thus adding to the potential upside.

These are two of the handful of key strategic issues that are being obfuscated by what has become an overly narrow debate (see this article, for example).

The longer Congress is stuck in this unfortunate operational mode, the greater the probability that its decision-making will fall even further behind the situation on the ground. And that would be very harmful to virtually all Americans, and both for current and future generations.