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The Fiscal Cliff: Another Washington-Style Political Theater

Updated on December 10, 2012

As the nation inches ever so precipitously toward the so-called fiscal cliff, the Obama White House and Republican Congressional Leaders appear caught in what ordinarily ought to be viewed as a maddening game of brinkmanship.

The stakes, we are repeatedly reminded, have never been higher and unless a deal is brokered by year’s end, many distinguished economists and reputable institutions warn of gargantuan consequences.

For starters, taxes would go up on every income bracket. According to data recently released by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO):

· for 20% of households with the lowest incomes, taxes might rise by as much as $412

· for middle 20% of income levels ($39,791 to $64,484), taxes could jump by $1,984

· for the top 20% ($108,267 or above), an average increase of $14,173 is anticipated, and

· for the top 1% (incomes of $506,210 or more), a tax hike of about $120,500 is expected

But unquestionably of far greater concern, again we are told, is the ominous likelihood that the economy might slip into a prolonged recession.

At issue remains how to address the country’s multi-trillion dollar deficit; what approach or cocktail of policy or programmatic changes must be dispensed to progressively bring things under control.

Neither side’s position has ever been in doubt; in fact, to the contrary, the major point of departure has been splendidly clear.

President Obama and Democratic leaders have vigorously and adamantly pushed for a recipe that would centrally cause wealthy Americans to do more by paying slightly higher taxes (precisely from 35% to 39.5%).

Republican Congressional Leaders on the other hand, until recently, have been unambiguous about their opposition to any package that would raise taxes on anyone; for them, Washington has a spending problem and as such, only cuts in discretionary spending would be morally defensible.

But is this accurately a real crisis or a contrived controversy conveniently and self-interestedly ginned up by corporate media interests and the political “consultocracy?” Shouldn’t we just brush this aside as political theater par excellence?

I happen to be of the firm belief that this matter was settled at the November general elections when given the obvious choice between two diametrically opposed positions on this tax issue, American voters resoundingly returned Barack Obama to the White House for a second term.

They fundamentally sided with Obama’s insistence that the top two percent’s taxes must be reverted back to the Clinton years’ rates. And poll after poll indicate that more than 60% of Americans view this position as fair and proper. To me, that ought to settle it.

It is no overstatement, therefore, that House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s bargaining position was irredeemably compromised by the outcome of this election. They simply do not have many hands to play. The fact that they may be slow to come to terms with it certainly doesn’t mean that they are stupid; I’m convinced that they can see the handwriting on the wall.

Little wonder, therefore, that many Republican lawmakers have publicly denounced or repudiated Grover Norquist’s no-tax pledge even as GOP Congressional Leaders (including Boehner, McConnell and the House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor) are back-pedaling a bit.

There’s been a thaw in Republican lock-step recalcitrance. The leadership has cleverly softened its original hardnosed opposition to the inclusion of any revenue-generating measures in efforts to address the deficit.

GOP lawmakers are presently intent on haggling over the actual make-up of the revenue kit or what should constitute an acceptable or suitable tax revenue to spending cut ratio. But in the end, they will come around.

It’s quite easy to see that they just need a little more time to finagle a way to sell the tough pill to their rank and file; especially their more vociferous tea party adherents.

So, while both sides may appear hopelessly mired in a deadening ideological quicksand, a deal will, out of relative obscurity, be struck before the clock runs out.

Regardless of all the public banter and bluster, it is preeminently in the GOP’s interest that this is resolved if the party must retain any semblance of national political relevance in the near term.

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