Todd Shallat is right on the money (pun intended) when he references, if indirectly, the serious set of choices this nation has before it, and his invocation of Randall’s thesis is intriguing. Just as the Civil War was about major issues that no inter-party compromise could solve, so too is this current fiscal problem a reflection of the fact that we are at a sharp fork in the road. The fork, or cliff, was accelerated by the financial double-whammy of massive revenue reductions via the Bush tax cuts and massive spending spikes via the two wars of the last decade and entitlement programs that require at least some amount of reform.
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TBR Fiscal Cliff Group Blog
As a country, we have to go one of two directions. Either we realize and fund appropriately a robust government that serves the public in a range of ways, including regulatory regimes and social welfare safety nets, or we take the path of austerity, where government is stripped down to its bare bones. The failure of the Boehner-Obama grand bargain led to the creation of the super committee, which also succumbed to the forces of hyper-polarization, as has the rest of Congress in what little attempt has been made to deal realistically with the ever-closer cliff. The folks who crafted the bill that created the super committee knew full well that it would likely work out this way, and as a result included the trigger language that leads to at least part of the phenomenon we are calling the fiscal cliff (with the other part being the scheduled expiration of the Bush tax cuts for all income groups). In a way, going off the fiscal cliff is the way this legislation might ultimately work—it forces action that our leaders simply cannot muster on their own.
The most disappointing aspect, to me, of all this is that even if we go over the cliff—or if our leaders get it together enough to make a cliff-averting deal—we’ll still likely kick the can down the road. At some point this nation has to decide which vision of government it is going to embrace. A potpourri of revenue hikes and spending cuts doesn’t get us there, it merely plugs a hole in the bottom of the boat at a time when we should probably be considering which new kind of boat to trade up—or down—to.
What might happen if we do plunge off the cliff? Or, if the deal to avert is made, what happens next?
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Boise State University, the Center for Idaho History and Politics, or the School of Public Service.