John Baer: Why there's no 'fiscal cliff' up ahead

Posted: November 13, 2012

EVEN AS SUSPECT as I am about our loathsome, live-in-a-bubble, cost-too-much Congress - and the chance that it gets anything positive done, ever - talk of taking the country off a "fiscal cliff" is nonsense.

It's headline hype and cable-news fodder, an excuse for pundits and pols to bluster, brag, fidget and fearmonger.

Put plainly, it ain't gonna happen. For three reasons: bipartisan aversion to a middle-class tax hike, lessons from nature and the crying game.

Yeah, Washington specializes in avoidance, delay and crisis-creation. But even Washington must be tired of its broken-record behavior of not dealing with budgets, taxes, spending and deficits.

Certainly citizens are - or should be - unless there's something else going on.

Is there?

We just re-elected the same Congress we hold in historically low regard; its approval rating dropped this year to 10 percent in two national polls, Gallup and CBS/ New York Times.

In Pennsylvania, we just voted Democratic for president, U.S. Senate, state attorney general, state treasurer and state auditor general and, at the same time, extended the Republican margin in the congressional delegation. There now are 13 Republicans and five Democrats; and every Republican seeking re-election won.

You tell me.

We hate Congress but not our members of Congress? We like split government and want each side to hold some power to keep the other in check? We're electorally schizophrenic?

Maybe all of the above.

But whatever we are, we agree on one thing.

The first reason the cliff won't happen is nobody wants a middle-class tax hike.

So fights over new taxes on the rich versus closing loopholes used by the rich will end in compromise.

The president's $250,000 threshold to protect those making less than that from new taxes will get raised to $350,000, $400,000 or higher. Some allowable upper-class deductions will be eliminated or limited, and maybe even those GOP-protected tax rates for the rich will get a slight boost.

Both sides need to give something, and they will.

The re-elected president said, "I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together."

Republican House Speaker John Boehner states willingness to work with the White House and his own potentially disruptive caucus.

And this is a moment both parties need: Democrats, to justify electoral wins; Republicans, to rectify electoral losses.

The alternative is automatic tax increases and spending cuts starting in January that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office say would take $600 billion out of the economy, creating another recession.

This is why the respected independent credit-rating agency Standard & Poor's puts the chances of U.S. cliff-diving at only 15 percent.

The second reason it won't happen is a lesson learned from nature.

Congressional inaction leading to further economic woe would be the man-made equivalent of New York, New Jersey and Long Island getting hit with that nor'easter last week after getting hit with Sandy the week before.

Witnessing the double dose of pain and frustration suffered by those most impacted by the storms is a reminder that people can take only so much.

Same with the economy and Washington's ineptness.

The lesson from Mother Nature: enough already.

And the third reason the nation doesn't take the plunge is the crying game.

President Obama bonded with well-known boo-hooer Boehner by shedding some tears the day after the election during thank-yous to his campaign staff.

E-mail: baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: philly.com/BaerGrowls

Columns: philly.com/JohnBaer

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