Opinion: The Case for Going Over the Fiscal Cliff

Wednesday, November 28, 2012 - 10:21 AM

John Boehner and Eric Cantor

Washington politics, and the media pundits who cover it, can get a certain Doomsdayish in their tone. Remember when a financial crisis in September of 2008 few of us understood fully promised a devastating collapse unless the government bailed out the banks right away? Or the debate over the debt ceiling which asked whether we wanted to push our country into a historic default unlike anything we'd ever seen? Which of course led to the current fiscal cliff beyond which, we are warned, lies an unfathomable abyss?

There are two problems with these crisis moments - the rhetoric and the reality.

First, the rhetoric. When you hear that an event is about to have End-of-Days ramifications, you might want to take it with a grain of salt. This is a media that refers to snow storms as Snowmageddon and Snowpocalypse, after all. These are politicians who have warned of the end of America-as-we-know-it with surprising frequency. And every election is the most important of our lifetime.

That's not to say that the political decisions being made aren't critical, or that blizzards aren't harsh. It's just a reminder not to let the extreme language lead us to extreme actions.

The second problem is the reality. This "fiscal cliff" is a manufactured crisis, just as the Tea Party's near-shutdown of the federal government was manufactured several years ago. Congress created this problem as part of a bad bargain, and now is trying to make a bad idea worse. Like a mad scientist who unleashed his own Doomsday device, Congress is claiming that its own creation is out-of-control - when in fact, cool heads, courageous voices and reasoned arguments could carry the day.

That is, if the world doesn't end first.

Both sides of the aisle thrive on crises. Bush's Administration used 9/11 to ram through the Patriot Act and a host of other ready made policies, waiting for the right crisis… not to mention a war they were hankering after anyway. And President Obama's first chief-of-staff famously remarked that the administration shouldn't let a good crisis go to waste. When we're in crisis mode we the people can get more easily bullied and bulldozed into bad decisions.

Right now, those bad decisions could look like cuts to Social Security, a popular and essential program that has nothing to do with the nation's persistent deficit. They could look like some compromise on tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, an unpopular idea that might be used to win some Republican support. In a lame duck session, with a lamer sword of Damocles, we can't expect good decision-making.

The alternative: we go over this cliff, and discover it's just a dip in the road. Bad policy will come from the automatic cuts, but then cooler heads - including some newly elected members of the House and Senate - can work to undo the damage. It will be hard, but no harder than trying to make those same choices in a rushed timeline and spirit of crisis.

Bad policy got us into this mess. No need for worse policy to get us out.

While the automatic cuts are frightening, the premise that we'll do better by racing across an unnecessary finish line is even scarier. Let's not let false deadlines and manufactured crises determine critical, long-term policy for our nation.


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Comments [4]

Marcello from Brooklyn

And what about the laughable claim that Pelosi and the Democrats would be responsible for the deficit when they gained power only after the elections of 2006 and actually arrived in Congress in 2007?
I mean... I don't even know how to address a statement like this which has more to do with psychiatry that anything else.
Again, I could provide arguments that show how Bush is responsible for the vast majority of the deficit that you so constantly lament like this one:

Or I could give you this document from the Congressional Budget Office showing (at page 126) how the annihilation of the Clinton's surplus and the flood of red ink coincide perfectly with the first years of the Bush presidency and its enlightened policies of tax cuts and wars off the books.

But let's face it: to provide evidence for arguments is what logical, rational persons do and, therefore, that is absolutely useless when arguing with people like you since conservatives, by definition, are impervious to the notion of “evidence” or even to grasp the causality between reality and the facts that shape it. What you are good at is inventing your own reality. Enjoy the bubble.

Dec. 02 2012 09:30 AM

As you know Congress controls spending.
The credit for the Clinton surplus rests largely with Speaker Gingrich.
Bush's partner for his politically weakened last two years in office was Speaker Pelosi who spent more than all the other Speakers in history. Bush's large spending in those years was supported by the Democrats.
The cause of this economic crisis were not wars but the housing bubble which has Democrat and progressive finger prints all over it including then Senator Obama.

No amount of sophistry or revisionism can disguise that since 2010 Pelosi, Reid and Obama spent trillions without a serious budget or serious economic plan for the future.

"..even if it's not going to be enough, both from a moral and an economic standpoint, taxing the rich is definitely the right place to start"

Since when is lying and crackpot economics that will lead to the crash of the US economy moral?

Dec. 01 2012 12:58 PM
Marcello from Brooklyn


I really, really don't understand how can a conservative have the face to pontificate about the fiscal situation of the country after 8 years of conservative rule devastated the treasury with two rounds of tax cuts, two wars, an unfunded entitlement expansion and an economic stewardship that culminated in the biggest recession since the 1920s and whose effects are still with us.
All this starting with a surplus of more than 200 billion dollars left to Bush by the Clinton administration.

It's like Hitler or Stalin standing on some "moral pedestal" and accusing other people of atrocities...

Add to this, the stupidity of talking in terms of National Debt, which represents the compounded amount of all deficits and all surpluses from the beginning of American economic history, and pinning it all on Barack Obama.

Again, this is like somebody who develops lung cancer after a lifetime of chain-smoking and then blaming the doctor for the suffering resulting from the surgery needed to try to save his life.

Will taxing the rich solve the deficit problem? No... it will not!
The combined effect of the fiscal crater and the recession-related collapse in tax receipts that we inherited from the Republicans has been too devastating.
But, even if it's not going to be enough, both from a moral and an economic standpoint, taxing the rich is definitely the right place to start.

Dec. 01 2012 12:50 AM

" It's just a reminder not to let the extreme language lead us to extreme actions"

Does that include global warming/climate change?

"Let's not let false deadlines and manufactured crises determine critical, long-term policy for our nation"

What exactly is Obama and Reid's long term policy after spending trillions with no budget and without the slightest intention of cutting spending with the dumb manufactured solution of taxing the wealthy which does absolutely nothing to pay off the last six trillion Obama added and will add?

Notice how the media shouts about a fiscal cliff only after the election.

Nov. 28 2012 09:19 PM

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