Monday, December 24, 2012

The "Fiscal Cliff"

The “Fiscal Cliff”
P. Schultz
December 24, 2012

            Ah, we are, allegedly, ever closer to going over “the fiscal cliff;” that is, that time when our taxes will be raised, government spending will be slashed, and the gods only know what else will happen. “How can we avoid it?” is the question most are asking. Some are saying: “Don’t avoid it. Let’s go over and see what happens then.” But, in any case, all eyes are on “the fiscal cliff.”

            Which is one reason why I sense that what is going on is a lot like three card monty, that “card game” where a quick handed person asks you to find, say, the ace of spades among three cards which he moves around on a card board box, after you have bet $5.00 you can. It is, of course, a scam and you lose your money. And I sense, I feel, this is what is going on now: As all eyes are on “the fiscal cliff,” there is something else altogether going on – and we will perhaps even lose some more of our money.

            Why is this? First, because the makings of a deal are quite visible now, with the Republicans or some of them “compromising” on taxes and the Democrats or some of them compromising on spending. After all, it is just dollars being discussed now, at least among most Republicans and Democrats, so compromise is not difficult imagine.

            But then, why all the shenanigans? I am not sure but if they are not about “the deal” then they must be about something else. Here is one possibility, taken from an article in today’s New York Times:

“Both Mr. Boehner and Mr. McConnell are dealing with rising pressure from the right. The conservative Web site stoked passions in conservative circles when it reported that a handful of Republicans were considering a challenge to Mr. Boehner’s speakership when the House votes on Jan. 3 to elect a speaker for the 113th Congress. Boehner critics took to Twitter to keep up the pressure on him not to return to negotiations with Mr. Obama.”

As always, there is apparently a power struggle going on in the Republican Party, with John Boehner looking to maintain his leadership and others looking to overthrow him. We often fail to recognize that intraparty politics is just as important to policy outcomes as interparty politics. Perhaps they are even more important. From this viewpoint, Boehner has much to gain by deferring to the “rising pressure from the right” insofar as those right wingers look like extremists and insofar as Boehner is pretty sure there will be a deal. In that case, those who want to unseat Boehner can be made to look like extremists and, therefore, unfit to hold power. And given that they are only “a handful,” it would appear that Boehner has a strong hand to play.

            But another possibility is that all this hoopla about a “fiscal cliff” is a way of preserving the status quo or the current political alignment of forces, in both political parties. Given the situation of the nation now, it must be said that the current alignment of forces is on shaky ground. So, it serves the interests of the current political establishment to focus on how to avoid “the fiscal cliff” because this keeps other political options off the table. If there is a “fiscal cliff” then our first priority must be not to fall off that cliff because, as everyone knows, falling off a cliff hurts! All eyes shift toward “the fiscal cliff” and all other issues or alternatives disappear, as it were.

            And as these other alternatives disappear, so too does the appeal of those who would pursue these other alternatives. Note how the “presence” of a “fiscal cliff” helps to make that “handful” of right wing Republicans look like obstructionists, not reformers. “Hey, guys, get with the program! We need to deal with this fiscal cliff so we don’t have time to be monkeying around with long term issues.” Here is verification of this from Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican:

“We can’t let taxes go up on working people in this country,” she said, backing Mr. Obama’s calls for a stripped-down temporary measure. “It is going to be a patch because, in four days, we can’t solve everything.” [Emphasis added.]

Ah yes, a “patch job” because that is all we have time for now. How convenient for those who don’t want to address any alternative policies that might change our current political regime and the current alignment of political forces.

            So, “the fiscal cliff” and all of the attendant hoopla could be – and I think it is – little more than a political version of three card monty or, if you wish, conventional “magic.” As our eyes are captured by the impending “fiscal cliff” our politicians, performing like magicians using a sleight of hand, will make any possibility of genuine reform disappear and pull a rabbit out of their hat. And when they do, we will, if not ooh and aw, certainly applaud their skill. And despite its odor, it will probably escape our attention that what they presented to us was not a rabbit and it had not been pulled out of their hat.

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