No more than a few days after the election and America’s political system already seems intent on hurtling itself toward oblivion, this time by way of the ‘fiscal cliff.’
For those who tuned out after Obama’s victory last Tuesday, hoping for some time away from politics, the fiscal cliff refers to a series of budget cuts and tax increases set to go into effect automatically on Jan. 1. Among potential damages would be the expiration of what are commonly known as the “Bush-era tax cuts,” meaning people from all income brackets would be taxed at a higher rate. On the other end of the stick, the U.S. Treasury would sequester the budget authority, meaning it would seize control of it and enforce a series of spending cuts, sparing veterans benefits and Social Security while targeting other government functions, like defense.
This apocalyptic moment was constructed by several pieces of legislation, and generally it is supposed to serve as a mechanism to ensure that lawmakers actually agree to a long-term budget deal this time around. Still, all of this will be avoided if lawmakers reach a deal over the next 50 days.
The biggest obstacle, however, is the Republicans’ refusal to consider any and all tax increases on wealthy Americans. The fiscal cliff exists in the first place because of Republicans’ similar posturing. A year ago, when this argument was put forward, Republicans refused to accept a deal that raised taxes on the wealthy, despite the fact that Obama of the Democrats stood, axe in hand, ready to cut government spending. As a result, the bill that passed included these measures to provide added incentive for Congress to compromise this time around.
Obama was forthright about his plan to increase taxes on the rich (those making over $250,000 a year) throughout the campaign, and it could even be said that the Democratic Party as a whole ran on the same platform. The election’s results should provide enough of a mandate for the Democrats to exert their will, especially considering that any deal proposed by the Democratic Party would likely include a fair amount of budget cuts anyway (austerity is all the rage these days).
Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, however, have publicly stated time and again that they will not agree to a deal that includes tax increases. Rather, they prefer to close tax loopholes to ensure that the wealthy, who can afford to hire accountants to essentially help them game the system and evade taxes legally, actually shell out the amount they are legally obligated to pay. This is not a bad idea, but it will take a minimum of one year to rewrite America’s convoluted tax code. Simply allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire for those making over $250,000 while maintaining the tax break for everyone else would be a step in the right direction — a step toward fiscal responsibility — if we want to use the language of this absurd narrative.
Episodes like this one make the irrational nature of our political system quite apparent. Of all the serious social problems that exist in this country — disinvestment and privatization of public schools, contraction of pensions, a legal system that criminalizes poverty and race, a prison industrial complex that is expanding at an alarming rate, the continuation of financial capitalism’s cannibalistic tendencies and the failure to meaningfully reprimand those responsible for the economic collapse — it is absolutely insane that the biggest debate our elected representatives ever seem to have is over raising taxes on people who have benefitted the most from the current system.
In this delusional world, an income of $250,000 a year is almost considered middle class, when in fact the median income in the US is about $50,000 a year. It baffles me that the demand for tax increases is not greater. As much as I would like to pin the blame entirely on House Republicans, I must say that the Democrats, President Obama included, have been rather spineless, not only for failing to insist on even minimal redistribution of wealth, but for allowing the political discourse to be written as such. Meanwhile, gun sales are up.
Michael Dean’s momma always used to ask him, “If your friends jumped off of a fiscal cliff, would you jump, too?”
Rebuttal to Jeffrey Robin’s “Right Said” position:
Yes, the compromise will be dissatisfactory for everyone. Welcome to American democracy. With luck, however, Republican leaders will succeed in rallying enough moderate votes to pass some sort of balanced legislation. If not, either the sequestration or the tax hikes will go through and result in increased economic hardship for all of us, or we will end up with another agreement whereby the most marginalized members of our society are asked to sacrifice even more, and the wealthiest Americans will continue to benefit from an unbalanced tax code.
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