OPINION | We're now just days away from the "fiscal cliff" -- a brew of federal tax hikes and spending cuts that officials fear could plunge the economy back into recession.
So far, President Barack Obama and his Republican counterparts in Congress have been unable to come to an agreement to avoid the cliff -- and indeed, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, had to cancel a vote on his plan right before the holidays, since he couldn't muster enough GOP votes.
How dangerous is the cliff? Can it be avoided? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, examine the issue.
The fiscal cliff was always going to be a "Thelma and Louise" production -- but it's still fascinating to watch a Republican Party so disengaged from its governing responsibilities that it refuses to raise one dime of taxes on anyone, anywhere, for any reason.
In the last two years,
Obama has offered Republicans just about everything they say they want: Entitlement reform on Social Security and Medicare, raising retirement ages and generally letting fewer people benefit from a lifetime of contributing taxes to those programs.
In exchange, all Republicans had to do was let taxes rise slightly -- and only on those earning more than $250,000. (Obama even compromised on that, recently hinting he'd raise that figure to $400,000.) Those are compromises that would have infuriated Democrats and cheered the GOP. No dice.
The GOP can't even embrace its own vision of government if it involves a small tax increase on the rich. Which, remember, is one reason the budget went askew: Nobody paid for the GOP wars or Medicare drug benefits of the George W. Bush administration.
Republicans have long refused to pay for the government they clearly want.
That's OK. The Bush tax cuts expire at the end of the year -- all of them, on the rich and the poor. All Obama has to do is let them expire -- and then work with the Senate to pass a new tax cut, aimed only at the middle class, afterward. Would House Republicans refuse to lower taxes for the middle class without doing so for the rich? We're about to find out.
That means going over the cliff first. America's credit ratings might be further damaged by the debacle. But as long as Republicans have a say, disasters may be the only way forward.
Cowardice and calculation are the norm in Washington, D.C., today.
Compromise is long out of fashion. And memories are short. It's a shame. But
don't blame conservative Republicans (leaving their feckless leaders aside) for doing exactly what they said what they would do.
Just how unserious is the "fiscal cliff" debate? So unserious that Obama can't seem to remember how we got into this mess in the first place.
The president set the country on course for the cliff in 2011, when he rejected the congressional "supercommittee" proposal to cut federal spending. The president insisted on the "trigger" cuts that, left unaltered, will slash $500 billion from the Pentagon willy-nilly. The president has since rejected every deal Republicans have offered, including plans to raise federal revenues.
Republicans even made concessions on tax deductions -- something Mitt Romney discussed in the presidential election campaign. All of a sudden, big benefits like the mortgage interest deduction are on the table.
None of that was enough for the president. He is just as ideologically wed to the idea of a tax rate hike as conservatives are unalterably opposed.
Funny thing, though: 18 months ago, Obama suggested he would accept what the Republicans are now offering. "And what I've also said to Republicans is, if you don't like (raising tax rates), then I'm happy to work with you on tax reform that could potentially lower everybody's rates and broaden the base," the president said in July 2011.
Clearly, he was joking.
So what's likely to happen if the country goes over the "cliff"? Congress will make retroactive fixes. Republicans won't have to vote for a tax hike. Instead, they will vote to restore most of the tax breaks for Americans earning less than $250,000 a year. Probably some deductions will disappear.
Everyone will get a little of what they want, without addressing the real problem: a looming, $100 trillion wall of debt and unfunded entitlements. That's the cliff we'll leave for our children to dive.
(Ben Boychuk (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor of City Journal. Joel Mathis (email@example.com) is a writer in Philadelphia. Join the conversation at www.facebook.com/benandjoel.)