What will happen if Congress and President Obama can’t come to an agreement on the federal budget, and the country plunges off the so-called “fiscal cliff”?
Politicians and pundits are leading the charge on talking points. Some predict economic meltdown, while others expect a mild concussion, before the country is back to business as usual. The daredevils relish an opportunity to take the plunge, because it will ultimately force the gridlocked Congress into action.
A number of theories are being advanced on how to avoid the pitfall, but on at least one point, nearly everyone is in agreement: The Bush tax cuts for lower- and middle-income Americans should be extended, without further ado. Every poll indicates this is what the vast majority of the public wants – even those who would have voted for a moose rather than Barack Obama.
Polls also show most Americans – again, including Democrats and Republicans, as well as independents – believe tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy should be allowed to expire. Opinions vary widely on budget cuts for Medicare, Social Security, national defense and other line items, but most folks don’t want cuts enacted if they hit too close to home.
Congress will have to compromise, but paradoxically, its members appear unwilling or unable to do so. Instead, certain elements in the House of Representatives seem intent on holding the middle-class tax cuts “hostage” unless they can ram through the cuts for the wealthy. Their rigidity is more than just illogical; it also represents a mass nose-thumbing at the ideal of democracy, since it stands against the will of the people.
It’s also self-serving. Members of both the House and Senate are paid $174,000 in salary, but that doesn’t factor in benefits, honorariums and other perks. Nor does it count investment income and money earned from other businesses they or their spouses may own. Clearly, raising taxes on those earning more than $250,000 means raising taxes on all but a handful in Congress, as well as the extremely wealthy and globally influential people who funded their campaigns.
Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress can’t bootstrap the process, but more and more Republicans – like Tom Cole and Tom Coburn, both of Oklahoma – are starting to hitch their horses to the compromise bandwagon. Cole and Coburn, while philosophically supporting the idea that keeping taxes for the rich is also good for the economy, are saying that in the short run, certain actions should be taken to pave the way for serious tax reform.
For their courage and honesty, politicians like Coburn and Cole are being punished by some in their party with the threat of being “primaried” during their next election cycles – meaning the powers-that-be will back hard-right candidates and gamble the incumbents will get the boot. That might indeed happen, but there’s a chance the up-and-comers will be bypassed in the general election for candidates more left-leaning than the power-brokers would like.
Something will have to be done to trim bloated “entitlement” spending and the staggering deficit, but a stopgap measure to protect the middle class just makes sense. Middle and lower-income Americans spend practically every dime they make on products and services. This keeps the U.S. economy ginning along, because every time these folks spend money, they are protecting the jobs of workers who manufacture, deliver and sell those products, and deliver those services.
Wealthier Americans, on the other hand, tend to invest their money or save it in ways that will generate more income for their own families, enterprises and causes. While that is certainly their prerogative, they are not necessarily the “job creators” many politicians and pundits would have us believe. The “job creators” are those who put money back into the economy: consumers, and the small and medium-sized businesses of America – the mom-and-pop outfits like those along Muskogee Avenue, or locally-based corporations that have expanded through the ingenuity, hard work and determination of their leaders. These are the people, and the enterprises, those on Capitol Hill should work to protect first.
For bad or for ill, if America slips off the precipice, one thing’s for sure: Congress will get the lion’s share of the blame. And that’s as it should be.