Our national conversation is often spent on trivial things and really important matters get trivialized. Getting our fiscal house in order should be priority No. 1 for all Americans. With major tax increases and deep cuts to the military (a la sequestration) looming that could send us back into a recession, the last place our elected leadership should be is celebrating over the holidays. If you are reading this, it means we made it through the Mayan apocalypse. But like any Choose Your Own Adventure book or good Indiana Jones movie, we face another existential threat: the "Fiscal Cliff."
A large part of Ronald Reagan's success as president was his simplicity of message and focus on priorities. We understood him and what he stood for, and he worked with the congressional leadership of both parties to reform big things like immigration and taxes. When it comes to the Fiscal Cliff, it would be wise to follow his famous advice -- if not update it a bit: America must pursue a policy of peace through economic strength. A broad, bipartisan agreement must be reached to both avert the fiscal cliff and reduce the deficit in a balanced way. Regardless of what party you affiliate with -- or none at all, we can all agree that our spending, deficits and debt are not sustainable and endanger both the short- and long-term security of our nation. History has shown from recent times to that of the Romans, a failure to live within our means -- coupled with external threats -- is a recipe for decline.
Truth be told, the Fiscal Cliff is a manufactured doomsday scenario. It was set by Congress to deal with the last budget crisis during the debt ceiling debate. Had there been some compromise -- an art embraced by our Founders and practiced by many couples from across the fruited plain, this could have all been avoided. Recent developments between President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner are encouraging, not the least of which are Republicans willing to put their country's fiscal health ahead of a vow to ever raise taxes. The question is: Will they work out a deal in time?For the cliff divers among us, here are a few jagged rocks waiting below on January 1st if nothing is done:
- Increased taxes on 90 percent of Americans.
- Payroll tax increases for workers in the amount of two percent
- Ending of certain tax breaks for businesses.
- Unemployment benefits expiring.
- Automatic spending cuts to over 1,000 government programs, including defense and Medicare, to the tune of $1.2 trillion.
We cannot tax cut our way to prosperity any more than we can tax and spend our way into fiscal nirvana. It requires a balanced approach of sensible spending cuts, substantive entitlement reforms and negotiated tax increases -- with great consideration given to our hard-hit middle class and small businesses still recovering from the worse economic downturn since the Great Depression. Going over the Fiscal Cliff could very well send our economy back into recession and have major ramifications here in California -- where unemployment has dropped below 10 percent but is still above the national average.
Let's pursue another American century and avoid not just this man-made Fiscal Cliff, but also turn a page in our polarized politics. It begins by adopting the Reagan-esque "Peace through Economic Strength" maxim and commending leaders like Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for stepping up to become part of the Fix the Debt call-to-fiscal-arms. It calls for giving ideas from the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform that President Obama created the light of day and not dismissing them out of hand. It means working for the common good, compromising when necessary and negotiating as called for. And, it sometimes requires showing political courage by putting country ahead of party.
A version of this appeared in the Santa Clarita Valley Signal and Fox & Hounds Daily.