Saturday December 29, 2012

How many more manufactured crises must we as a nation undergo?

Call it what you will, the "fiscal cliff" is largely an unnecessary crisis. The deep budget cuts in both defense and domestic programs that will go into effect on Jan. 1 if Congress and the president do not come to an agreement soon are only looming over us because of blackmail.

That blackmail occurred in 2011 when Republican radicals in Congress refused to raise the nation's debt ceiling if their demands weren't met. Democrats, including President Obama, let them get away with it. Raising the debt ceiling had been a pro forma thing for decades until tea party radicals decided to put ideology over country. The result was that our credit rating as a nation was downgraded for the first time, and to placate the radicals legislation was set in place to inflict successive deep budget cuts on the nation.

Severely cutting government spending -- and thus the amount of money in circulation and consumer demand --while unemployment is still high is not a good idea, but no matter, tea party ideology denies the basic fact that government spending can boost the economy and help create jobs.

Another manufactured aspect of the fiscal cliff crisis is that on Jan. 1 millions of the long-term unemployed -- those who cannot find jobs -- will lose their benefits. This is another area where ideology has trumped common sense and the common good. The far right fears that unemployment insurance creates dependency, but the program demands that recipients look for work. If they can't find jobs, how are the unemployed supposed to support themselves. What will be the bill if we let hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens fall into destitution?

Then there is this sharp boulder down at the bottom of the fiscal cliff -- the rise of all income tax rates, from bottom to top, to the Clinton-era tax rates. The holdup on action here has been President Obama's reasonable -- and politically popular -- demand that the rate on the top 2 percent of earners, that is those making more than $250,000 per year, go up to the quite reasonable rate under President Clinton. Meanwhile the rates on everyone else would stay the same, preserving the President George W. Bush tax cuts.

This, too, the radical wing of the GOP finds unacceptable, despite the lonely voices of a few moderates. President Obama has even here offered a compromise, proposing that the upper level on which tax rates would go up start instead at $400,000. No matter. Tea party ideology demands that taxes never go up at any time for any reason under any circumstances.

This is not a matter of both sides failing to "come together." President Obama has been willing for weeks to get a deal done. In his efforts to reach a compromise, he not only even proposed raising the income threshold that would see a tax increase, he even at one point offered a concession on how Social Security benefits would be adjusted for inflation, possibly cutting billions in future expenditures. Many on his side of the aisle, including Vermont's Sen. Bernie Sanders, thought this was too much and spoke out against it. But it shows where the real fault for the lack of an agreement lies -- with the GOP House extremists who won't let Speaker John Boehner make any type of reasonable agreement with the other side.

We predict that within days of the nation going off the cliff on Jan. 1, the parties will make some type of agreement on these issues and others involved in this complicated mess. However, how much damage will be caused by the image of a great nation again unable to take care of its business remains to be seen.

But expect another GOP-manufactured crisis in a couple months, when the debt ceiling will need to be raised again.

Indeed, we may as a nation be in for a dismal two years of such manufactured crises in Washington as the GOP, having badly lost the last election, writhes in the throes of an identity crisis. Will it be an ideological club, blind to reality and determined to bring the country to a halt if it doesn't get its way? Or will it become again a great party, willing to face reality and govern, a party of principle and of reason, too -- a party not afraid to accept election results and respect the right of those citizens who disagree with it to live in a stable and governable country.