A Bump In The Road
I have to admit, I am not too terribly worked up about the looming, dooming "fiscal cliff" so many people are concerned about. Yes, yes, I know: if Congress doesn't act by the end of the year, there will be drastic cuts to some of the programs I would just love to see cut, but also to programs I don't want to see cut any further. And I appreciate that some of those cuts will add to the economic problems we currently face. It just seems to me that it's about time Congress and the President face the music for their joint refusal to take care of business, and the rest of us face the music for letting them get away with it.
David Horsey's cartoon and column makes the same point, although he is far more concerned than I am.
The reason we are where we are is because our elected leaders put us here. The fiscal cliff -- a set of automatic draconian budget cuts and tax increases that will start taking effect on Jan. 1 -- was purposely created as a way to force the squabbling Congress and president into a budget deal. It is part of the Budget Control Act of 2011 that grew out of the near-disastrous debt ceiling showdown between President Obama and House Republicans.
The idea was that Republicans and Democrats would finally put differences aside and reach a budget compromise because both sides would be motivated by dread of automatic across-the-board cuts and tax hikes that would almost certainly hit the U.S. economy like a wrecking ball. ...
Many folks who claim to be political experts say this is mere posturing and that both sides will give up something to get a deal done -- with Republicans giving up more because the president is in a commanding negotiating position having just won reelection. Perhaps they are right, but the kind of hardheaded political calculation that used to get deals done in the days of Lyndon Johnson or Tip O’Neill has given way to ideological purity.
Congress is now filled with people like tea party cheerleader Michele Bachmann who has said that maybe it would not be such a bad idea to let the country go over the fiscal cliff. Boehner will have a tough enough time cajoling Ryan into any kind of compromise; he is unlikely to ever get crusaders like Bachmann and her hyper-conservative compatriots to give him an inch or a vote.
Hard-line liberals will also be difficult to move, especially if a proposed deal threatens the status quo in Social Security or Medicare. What is needed in the House and Senate is a bipartisan effort of folks in the center. That's where all the work used to get done in the old days, but it has been a long time since anyone has pulled together a coalition of rational compromisers.
While I agree that it is lamentable that our elected officials cannot seem to get any kind of deal done, I disagree with Horsey that it's because both far ends of the spectrum are to blame. I mean, c'mon, David: the "hard-line liberals" haven't had any kind of voice for over 20 years at least. Our two parties keep moving further and further to the right thanks to the DLC, Blue Dog, and Third-Way Democrats who are perfectly happy keeping our owners perfectly happy. The rest of us, all 99%, have been hung out to dry for a long time because we can't write the big checks come election time.
And it's not like THE DEFICIT is such a big deal. Really. It wasn't a big deal in 2000 when the GOP took power with the SURPLUS Bill Clinton handed it. It didn't take long for the Bushies to run through that surplus in various ways, including fighting two wars off budget. Deficits surely didn't matter then, and, truth be told, it really doesn't matter now. Adjust a few things and we can offset a lot of the damage.
First of all, we should damned well take Social Security and Medicare off the table. Social Security has absolutely NOTHING, zero, zip, nada, to do with the deficit. It is a user-funded program which for too long has been used as an ATM by Congress. If folks are so concerned that 35 years from now Social Security will go into red-ink, then raise the payroll tax from its current level. Cap it at $130,00 or remove the cap entirely. Medicare has the potential for being a drag on government spending, but there are ways to short-circuit that, including adding funds to the DOJ for slamming the fraudsters who are ripping the program off.
Next, end the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy. It finally looks like President Obama and the Dems got the message from the election that the rest of us are tired of that 1% getting more breaks than they are entitled to. Michele Bachmann and Paul Ryan may throw a snit-fit, but both had a harder time than expected in returning to Congress. And the rest of the GOP, smarting from the last election, is hardly in any position to object too vigorously if it wants to continue as a viable party.
I'd also end the "middle class" payroll tax break. All that did was undercut Social Security and Medicare funding. Instead, provide real tax breaks for those of us with incomes below, say $250,00. Avedon Carol has an excellent idea, one that hadn't occurred to me: raise the standard deduction from the laughable $3,800. Go read what she has to say about that. And then put real money into people's pockets by lowering rates.
Then tax all income, regardless of the source and regardless of the recipient. Make corporations actually pay taxes. To those who say that would affect job creation I would reply "Bovine Excrement!" I didn't see any jobs being created by those tax breaks. All I saw was outsourcing and offshoring. The only "trickle down" we've seen has been of the decidedly urine-based fluids raining down on all of us. Those corporations who object and threaten to move out of the country can pay for their own damned security. I'm sure Eric Prince and whatever his mercenaries are called these days will be happy to oblige. We, then, can apply tariffs to the imports.
And that's just for openers. I don't have any hard and fast rules for cutting "the fat" out of government programs, but, then, neither does the GOP beyond killing Big Bird and FEMA. I do think cutting the junk contracts of the Pentagon is long over-due, as are outsourced programs in Homeland Security and the State Department. Let government do the job the Constitution gave to it.
But I'm not sure we have enough stiff-necks and strong spines to accomplish this. If not, there's always 2014.