BY CARL GOLDEN
We've all become cliff dwellers. We cling to the rocky face while, above us, President Obama and Congressional Republicans are locked in an embrace heading toward the precipice which will plunge them, and us, into… just what exactly? Well, depends whose prediction you’re willing to accept.
There are those who are convinced the fiscal cliff issue is a manufactured crisis, constructed by liberals and aided by a compliant media to scare Americans and convince them that their only salvation lies in increasing taxes on the wealthiest among us. It’s at most a fiscal speed bump, not a cliff, they say.
On the other side is the body of opinion which holds that, unless a deal is struck, taxes will go up automatically on Jan. 1, taking more money out of the pockets of all Americans—money which consumers would normally spend on goods and services and continue to help the nation’s economic recovery.
The higher taxes, combined with some $500 billion in automatic across-the-board cuts in government spending, will produce a severe recession from which it could years to recover, they say.
President Obama doesn't want what Congressional Republicans want and they don’t want what he wants, turning the entire situation into a public relations war rather than a sober, good faith effort to negotiate a settlement.
Both sides have decided that the struggle for hearts and minds can best be carried out on Sunday morning television talk shows. They repeat the same stale, hackneyed talking points which only reinforce public perception of governmental insincerity and ineptitude: a theater of the absurd acted out by individuals who don’t care about the effect on the audience.
The President has succeeded in framing the debate around his belief that wealthy Americans—the top two per cent of wage earners—should pay more in income taxes. while characterizing Republican opponents as fighting to the death to protect the rich and curb spending by chipping away at Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid: programs which disproportionately benefit low and middle income individuals.
For Republicans, it’s been a losing hand so far. Even conservative leader Bill Kristol, venting his frustration, said raising taxes on multi-millionaires—most of whom were Obama donors and supporters in any event—wasn't such a bad idea and Republicans wouldn't be punished for agreeing to it.
While there is an anti-tax strand in the DNA of many Republicans in Congress, there is an equally powerful political survival strand as well, one which signals that refusing to act and allowing taxes to increase on all Americans threatens that survival.