Aside from the Benghazi incident and the scandal around former C.I.A. director David Petraeus, the most talked about political issue since the November 6th elections is the “fiscal cliff.” This refers to the automatic spending cuts which will affect a substantial amount of the government and the automatic rise in tax rates across the board due to the expiration of the Bush-Obama tax cuts. When looked at through a policy lens, one can see that “fiscal cliff” is a misnomer. A more accurate term is “fiscal ditch,” a ditch which separates old policies from new.
Many commentators are urging President Obama to meet with House Republicans and try to reach a “grand bargain” to avoid tumbling into the ditch. Due to the rigidity of the Republican Party on economic issues, such a compromise would likely include an extension of the Bush-Obama tax cuts for all taxpayers and measured spending cuts, although these cuts would most certainly come in the form of pledges to cut spending at some future point.
This compromise would be a victory for the Republican Party and do little to discourage their continual hostage-taking of policymaking by means of economic brinksmanship. Additionally, while the bargain would keep the American people out of the ditch, it would do nothing to fix the faulty economic policies which have put the nation in these dire straits; in fact, the bargain would likely solidify those policies in place for years to come.
The reason why “fiscal cliff” is the wrong term to use is that it implies the policies which have been in place for the past decade are the only policies available. There is, however, an alternative. As the “fiscal ditch” moniker suggests, there is another set of policies separated from the United States by the ditch.
These policies are those Republicans have attempted to hide from the American people in the past decade. Higher taxes on the wealthiest individuals who earn more in a day than most Americans do in a year. Increased stimulus of the economy by the government which worked in 2009 before Tea Party conservatives dismantled the program after the mid-terms. A fierce rejection of the austerity programs trumpeted by Republicans which have destroyed Greece and Spain. Increased taxes on capital gains, a source of income available only to the rich which fuels the wealth inequality prevalent in American society.
Republicans like to claim that the president’s policies have not helped the economy recover in his first term; this claim, however, is disingenuous. President Obama has been unable to truly implement any economic policies due to Republican obstruction. The G.O.P. has embarrassed the United States with their blatant refusal to work with the president in any capacity in which they did not get everything they wanted. Was it the president who pushed the government ten minutes from shutdown in 2011? Was it the president who refused to budge on the debt ceiling until literally the day before the government was going to default? Has it been the president who continues to adhere to economic policies which do not have a shred of verification in reality? If you have paid attention to politics for five seconds in the past four years, you know the answers to those questions.
While the impending battle over the fiscal ditch is being construed as one between President Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner, the reality is far more troubling. While Mr. Boehner is certainly the face of the opposition, the individual the president is actually going against is Grover Norquist. Those who have read the Constitution understand why this is troubling. In a debate over the future of American economic policy, a democratically elected president must overcome the impetuous opposition deployed by an individual who nobody elected.
Norquist is leading a slow, but steady, coup d'etat against the democratic ideals of the United States. How the Republican Party, which claims to value the Constitution over everything else in American life, has allowed itself to be manipulated so profoundly by an individual who exhibits the basest of contempt for the American governmental system is beyond logical explanation.
If President Obama wants to be taken seriously in his second term than he cannot oblige those few, yet loud, radical fiscal conservatives who only attempt to conserve their own pocketbooks while incinerating everything else around them. The best course of action for the president is a leap of faith over the fiscal ditch to new policies. However, it is likely that the Democratic Party will fold to Republican pressure, which seems to be the Democratic modus operandi as of late, and American economic policy will remain on the same track which has seen little growth towards recovery.