Fiscal Cliff Negotiations Become a Stalemate
As the 112th Congress enters its final month, pundits and experts in Washington are talking about a last-minute debt deal that will help America avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff”. There are a few major problems with this idea that lawmakers are locked in tense negotiations.
First, the Republican Party is not negotiating.
After his re-election, President Obama sent his budget proposal to Congress for review and consideration. It included nearly $1 trillion in tax revenue from expiring Bush Tax cuts for the wealthy in exchange for the $1 trillion in spending cuts that Democrats gave up in the last negotiation. It included an additional $600 billion in revenue increases to placate Democratic interests and another $600 billion in spending cuts mostly taken from Medicare. When coupled with ending the war in Afghanistan and providing $200 billion in economic stimulus the budget proposal came out in perfect balance.
It matched every dollar in tax increases with another dollar in spending cuts. The dollar amounts, all calculated over a ten-year span, reduce the running deficit by trillions of dollars over a decade. Republicans get to hang their hat on spending cuts. Democrats get their tax increases. The American people get what they want: the super wealthy paying a fair share. The tax proposal was absurdly reasonable.
Republicans laughed at the offer.
President Obama turned in a proposal that is perfectly in line with the platform upon which he just won a national election. He turned in a proposal that has more than enough votes to pass the Senate. This balanced budgetary approach was then literally laughed at by Republicans. They offered not response, sought not compromise, and put forward no position. They simply said no.
The second major problem in Washington is the anti-tax commitments of elected Republicans.
Over the past twenty years, Americans for Tax Reform, led by Grover Norquist, has taken control of most of the Republican caucus in the House and Senate. Every elected member of that party has signed a pledge committing themselves against any and all tax increases.
Norquist’s vision is a world where the government is bled to death by tax cuts. Most Americans want a government that works. He wants a government too small to work.
Norquist’s organization has deep pockets and broad appeal in the ferociously right-wing Tea Party. Any elected Republican who reads President Obama’s balanced appeal and sees something worth working on will face an immediate challenge in their primary election season. Long-time congressional representatives will face right-wing attacks if they act professionally and in the interest of the American people.
The United States has far more important and pressing problems than the fiscal cliff, which many analysts regard as a non-issue. How can the American people expect their government to take on the tough decisions when half of this country’s elected officials refuse to work?