With perfect comedic timing, President Obama cut short his Hawaii vacation to arrive in Washington Thursday – just as the capital became void of members of the House of Representatives, House Speaker John Boehner having recessed his chamber.
Boehner promised he’d give 48 hours notice were he to call the House back to session. Since Tuesday is already the first day of the new year, that means any deal to avert the fiscal cliff can only come, literally, at the last minute on Monday.
While last-minute reprieves are not unknown to history, don’t expect any miracles on Monday.
It is true that the American people don’t want to go over the fiscal cliff. A recent Gallup poll shows 68% of those surveyed want a deal in Washington compared to 22% unwilling to compromise.
No deal means financial pain for Americans across the board through increased taxation and government payment reductions. The average middle-class American will pay something like $2,000 more in taxes; spending reductions will affect Americans in a variety of ways – federal student aid is expected to fall by 8%, to cite one example. Going over the cliff is also widely believed likely to trigger a recession, further squeezing already hard-pressed Americans.
But it may just be that the outcome most Americans want to avoid, unpleasant though it is, is the sort of hard-to-swallow medicine most needed to heal the body politic.
The core issue at stake today is how Americans raise and spend money, and the height of the cliff upon which we stand is proportional to the $16.4 trillion debt we have accumulated.
Sure, we don’t want to pay higher taxes. We’re already squeezed – a tax hike will inflict quite severe pain, as would a diminution in whatever governmental support we may be receiving.
But in plain language, what Americans do not want to do is to pay for what they are getting. That’s really what is going on here. Our politicians have doled out goodies to the tune of trillions and we have grown accustomed to living beyond our means.
When we are headed in a dangerous direction, common sense dictates that the pain of reversal will only grow more severe the longer we wait to do anything about it.
If an average person consumes 2,000 calories a day, but appetite and opportunity permit him to increase that to 2,500, then 3,000, and more as time goes on, the pain of a diet will certainly be more severe when the daily level reaches 4,500 calories than 3,000 calories.
We Americans have become chronic “overeaters,” and it is better to deal with the pain of hunger than to also face a future of heart disease and blood clots, to which we are currently on track.
There are many very serious policy issues that arise with our current level of fiscal indigestion. Among the most worrisome is the sequestration-based defense budget cuts. For fiscal year 2013, that means the Pentagon will see a $55 billion reduction of its $614 billion budget.