Author: Henry Dickmeyer|Ian Mariani
In creating any budget, one must weigh a balance of two essential factors. Firstly, how much money is expected to be spent in the coming year, and secondly, how much money is expected to be made that year. Budgets are a balance of these expenditures and revenues, a balance that consistently locks Congress in heated debate for the larger portion of every session. Another facet of this gridlock is debt and deficit reduction, the GOP Congressional darling Paul Ryan’s forte. Most recently, the debate has manifested itself in a discussion of how best to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff” looming at the end of this calendar year. And yes, it’s a big deal, and the “fiscal cliff,” dubbed by Ben Bernanke, the country’s renowned Great Depression scholar, is completely avoidable. But the debate itself has been curtailed by members of the Republican Party that refuse to acknowledge the basics of this balance, sticking to an anti-tax mentality that will almost certainly sink any further discussion.
Revenue can be increased by cutting spending or raising taxes. On the spending cuts front, it seems that most of the U.S. is on board. Even the touchy subjects like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security seem to be on the chopping block, as well as military spending. One needs only to look at Paul Ryan’s track record on Medicare, which proposed strong overhaul and reform, and then notice that Romney was still able to win a strong majority of those over 55 in the country. This discrepancy clearly indicates that even those who would directly feel the cuts still chose to vote indirectly to reform the program.
But in the fiscal cliff situation, raising government revenue seems like the biggest concern for only one side of the aisle. Republicans see the deal as an opportunity to slash what we don’t need and limit intervention, which means limited taxes and minimized hurt on America’s wealthy and upper middle class. Democrats, on the other end of the spectrum, see the budget deal as an opportunity to exploit conservative thinking, raise revenue by hiking the proper tax brackets, and prove that their fiscal plan, especially under Obama’s administration, will work. If anything, the gridlock is a power struggle, coupling political apprehension and economic vindication for the deadlocked parties.
It is the debate-stopping proposal of tax increases that really has Congress in a bind, to little surprise of the electorate. Speaker John Boehner has already said that a tax code reform that would close loopholes but keep tax rates at current levels would be preferable. It is hard to imagine that there are billions of dollars of loopholes that would solve our current budget crisis if closed. But even so, it seems that some Republicans have come to their senses.
What began as a handful of GOP Senators breaking from a “no new tax” pledge organized by lobbyist Grover Norquist has become the perfect representation of the internal struggle facing the Republican party. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has recently become one of the biggest-name senators to denounce Norquist’s pledge. “We don’t generate enough revenue,” Graham said.
Graham and other Republican Congressmen have followed the lead after the revered Saxby Chambliss of Georgia last week fervently expressed his views of Norquist’s proposal. “I care too much about my country – I care a lot more about it than I do about Grover Norquist,” Chambliss told a local Georgia news station.
They’re both right, and the rest of the Republican Party doesn’t want to admit it.
What Republicans may be just beginning to understand is that when facing a dramatic change in fiscal policy that will be forced onto us in the new year, everything has to be on the table. “Tax reform” can no longer be the cop-out for recognizing that “tax overhaul” is desperately needed, requiring Congress to craft a tax policy that’s adjustable to both healthy and unhealthy economic climates.
But the language that Norquist has been invoking, that of a Congressperson’s responsibility to their constituents, is exactly what these GOP dissidents should be using to explain their actions. They as elected officials are held accountable not by some lobbyist and his arbitrary pledge, but by the people who elected them. And those people should expect them to do whatever they can to avoid fiscal disaster.
Norquist isn’t backing down from his pledge. The conservative lobbyist told the Wall Street Journal last week, “For 20 years Democrats have tried over and over to trick Republicans into breaking the pledge. It hasn’t happened. This isn’t my first rodeo.” It’s precisely that attitude from the man with such a polarized tug on Washington that puts Congress at a dismal 18% approval rating, according to a Gallup report on Monday.
It’s a shame that the fiscal cliff was seldom mentioned on the campaign trail, both at the state and national levels. With all the talk and promises from both sides about “working across the aisle” and “bipartisan agreement,” rarely did the candidates put it in terms of finding a bipartisan solution to this looming task. Nonetheless the country elected a tax-hiking Democratic President and a divisive Congress (the status quo, circa 2010) after months of deliberation and gradual economic recovery. Finding a feasible solution will be the first test to determine whether the election’s promises of reform, fiscal responsibility and cooperation are indeed applicable.
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