Fiscal cliffmageddon

My computer’s been on the fritz for over a week now, leaving my blog addiction unsated.  All sorts of political/economic news I’ve not been able to talk about, much of it involving movie stars.  Plus, the collapse of the US economy.  What’s that Chinese curse?  May you live in interesting times?

My favorite political headline of the week was this one: “Jon Huntsman for Speaker of the House.”  Yep, there it was, page B-1 in the Deseret News. Some think tank thought this would be a dandy idea.  And in fact, I think Jon Huntsman would probably do a fine job.  Coupla little problems, though: first, Jon Huntsman isn’t, you know, in the House. He can’t be Speaker.  Plus, he’s waaaaayyyy to the left of most current House Republicans.  You know, the people who would be voting for him. I mean, I think Joss Whedon would be a dandy choice to direct the new Disney Star Wars movie, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.

Too bad Huntsman’s not a movie star–that seems to be a good political career path.  Follow me: President Obama just named John Kerry Secretary of State, apparently because Susan Rice, his first pick, turned out to be a no-good-nic. Rice, a superbly qualified academic and diplomat went on Sunday talk shows a few days after the Benghazi attacks, and did her job; repeated the talking points given her by the intelligence community.  For that detestable act of high treason, she was deemed unqualified to be Secretary of State.  (Unfrickinbelievable).  All right, John Kerry gets the job, and he’ll do well.  But recently defeated Massachusetts senator Scott Brown is expected to run for Kerry’s now vacated seat. Enter . . . Ben Affleck, who is active in politics, from Massachusetts, and famous.  It’s hard for me to see how appearing on a Sunday talk show is considered a crime against humanity, when making Gigli isn’t, but I could get behind Senator Affleck, if it’s only for two years.  Argo was an awfully good movie, though–hate to see him lose that momentum.

Meanwhile Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, is up for re-election in two years, and is apparently kind of worried about it, because none other than Ashley Judd is considering running against him.  That’s right: Wesley Crusher’s girlfriend from Star Trek TNG.  Actually, she could well be a formidable candidate–she’s been very active politically, working with YouthAIDS, a education program to help prevent the spread of AIDS in Africa, and also working to fight genocide in the Congo.  I’ve seen her speak on both issues, and she’s articulate and informed.  She’s got charisma, name recognition, and at 44, her movie career’s kinda stalled.  And she’s a massive Kentucky basketball fan, married to a race car driver.  Fast cars and hoops; she’ll do well in Kentucky.

We’re fast approaching the final days of the 112th Congress, and it’s hard to see how adding a couple of movie stars could possibly make things worse than they are right now.  The latest news is that milk prices could well go up to 8 bucks a gallon next year, because the 112th couldn’t get an extension of the farm bill passed.  Like all the other stuff they couldn’t get passed.

Like a budget.  And that’s where we are right now, a couple of days away from going over the fiscal cliff.  Credit Ben Bernancke for that particular metaphor, though actually cliffs are rarely self-created, and this one is; a completely artificial, man-made crisis, a set of Congress-created consequences so dire it would absolutely require Congressional action to prevent it.  Here’s the fiscal cliff; I know I have to apologize to my neighbor.  I don’t want to.  I don’t like the guy.  But I know it’s the right thing to do.  So I say to myself: I MUST do this, go up to the guy and say I’m sorry. I HAVE to, so, okay, the next time I walk past him without apologizing, I will DIVE into a VAT of ACID. And take my children with me.  That’ll MAKE ME do it.  And now, guess what, there he is.  And I still won’t. Won’t shake his hand, won’t be civil.  Don’t want to. The acid awaits.  Dang.

Here are five main misconceptions about the fiscal cliff negotiations:

1) The biggest problem is that the Republicans, as a matter of principle, refuse to raise taxes.

Not true.  Essentially every proposal made by Speaker Boehner and supported by House Republicans involves raising taxes.  President Obama got them to pass a payroll tax cut; he wants to extend it.  Republicans are against it.  Payroll taxes hit poor and middle class people the hardest–that’s the tax that really nails the working poor.  Republicans want to repeal that specific tax cut–which means, essentially, a tax hike on poor people.  What Republicans oppose is only this: a tax hike on rich people.

2) The President has been completely intransigent in these negotiations, insisting that all compromises be made by Republicans.

On Sunday, on This Week with Snuffleupagus, Peggy Noonan repeated this particular canard, and went, of course, unchallenged.  In fact, the President, in these negotiations, has repeatedly offered deals that frankly have Democrats horrified–cuts in Social Security benefits, domestic spending cuts.  And he’s compromised on the tax hike on rich people. And he won the last election.  John Boehner has budged a little too, but it didn’t matter–the Speaker has essentially lost his conference.  His plan B (tax hikes on incomes over a million), a complete non-starter in the Senate, still went too far as far as the Republican House members were concerned.

I think Republicans want, I don’t know, some kind of pain points in these negotiations. Actually, maybe both sides do. Like: raising taxes on rich people is so hard, so excruciatingly painful for us conservatives, we should get all kinds of concessions for even considering it.  You should have to give in on everything else.  Whereas from my liberal Democrat point of view, raising taxes on rich folks is the obvious first step.  That’s the step that hurts the fewest people the least–that’s clearly where you start. Everything else–cutting Social Security benefits, or Medicare, or food stamps and Meals-on-Wheels, that all hurts a lot of people a lot. Me, I don’t think giving in on taxes should get conservatives any consideration at all.

3) Democrats want the nation to go over the fiscal cliff, because they’d get most of what they want.

Speaking as a Democrat, uh, no.  Wow.  Essentially the fiscal cliff means way too much austerity way too fast.  It would throw our economy back into recession, which, guess what, we’re against.  The domestic spending cuts would be devastating, as would the tax increase on the middle class.  All we’d get are some cuts in Defense spending, which most liberals do favor, plus a tax hike on rich guys, because we liberals hate rich people.  (That last one’s just funny: remember, two of the President’s strongest supporters are Warren Buffet and Bill Gates).

4) In the election, Democrats won the White House, Republicans won the House.  So Americans want divided government.

True: more voters supported President Obama than they did Governor Romney.  Also true: more voters supported House Democrats than they did House Republicans.  If not for massive gerrymandering after the 2010 election, Democrats would have won the House too.  I know, we do it too.  But when, oh when! will the Supreme Court declare gerrymandering unconstitutional?

5.This problem could be solved, if both sides could just get together and compromise already.

Not so. The Democrats, under President Obama’s leadership, have shown a tremendous willingness to compromise. The House Republicans are holding up the deal.

Here’s the thing; I actually kind of respect the Tea Party guys.  They think that the federal government is completely out of control.  They think that this long-standing series of compromises and deals and negotiations that has been politics as usual for the last fifty years is completely corrupt and is destroying the Constitution.  They think compromise is unprincipled.  They think the federal government is hopeless, corrupt, inefficient, ineffective, way too costly.  And that we’re handing a horrible fiscal mess to our (their) grandchildren.

My son thinks the Republican party shouldn’t be called the GOP anymore; it should be the OWP.  Old White People.  But I remember vividly a political conversation I had with my Dad a few months ago, in which he said, “you have no idea how pissed-off grandpas get when their grandkids are in trouble.”  I get that, I do. They look at the deficit and the debt and they get worried about the youngsters, the rising generation, and they get angry and scared.  And compromise starts to look like a bad thing.

So look at the debt ceiling.  It’s going to have to be raised again in a few weeks, probably some time in February, and that’s just a huge issue for the Tea Party.  It’s a symbol of overspending and profligacy; it’s crippling our future, and OWPs really are all about the future.

It’s just–they’re wrong.  About all of it.  The debt is bad, but we know what caused it and we know how to get out of it. Spending is not out of control–the problem is lowered tax revenues, caused by high unemployment.  Right now is the time for more stimulative spending, not less.  And not raising the debt ceiling–which isn’t about future debt, it’s about paying off our existing obligations, it’s extremely important–really would be catastrophic. That fear, the fear that we wouldn’t raise the debt ceiling, that’s the fear that keeps me up at night.

Right now, even as I write, the President, Speaker Boehner, Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi, those four people, are meeting.  I know what I hope they’ll do.  Get Pelosi and Reid to agree to a deal based on Simpson-Bowles (the big bi-partisan debt commission plan that got shelved almost immediately after it was announced).  Get the Senate to pass it.  Get Boehner to call for a vote on it, get Pelosi to get all the House Democrats to vote for it.  And desperately hope there are 25 patriots left in the House Republican caucus.

Otherwise, it’s off the cliff we go.  Plus eight bucks a gallon for milk. Interesting times indeed.



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