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The Rational Center | Commentary by John Zaring
| Tuesday, Dec 11, 2012

Congratulations, Washington, you achieved nothing this past week. Again.

Here’s a recap of things so far. Last week, President Barack Obama’s offer to avoid the fiscal cliff was laughed at by Republican leaders. Then, the GOP countered with its own solution. Well, sort of. All they said was, extend the Bush tax cuts to everyone, including the rich, and somehow they’d magically create $2.2 trillion in new revenue, and by closing special interest deductions and loopholes, vague savings from healthcare and cuts to discretionary spending. Other than bullet points, they offered no specifics.

Obama wasn’t buying what they were selling, and he laid down the gauntlet, saying, “We’re going to have to see the rates on the top 2 percent go up, and we’re not going to see a deal without it.”

House Speaker John Boehner’s response: “We’re waiting on the president to make a serious proposal.”

Finally, on Sunday afternoon, the two men got together for the first time in 23 days – 23 days until the fiscal cliff is reached. No one knows what happened or if any progress is made, but suffice it to say, if they aren’t talking, that’s a good sign. These guys are both smart enough to know that every day Washington fails to make a deal, things get a little worse.

Who will be blamed if we do go over the fiscal cliff?

Results from a Pew Research Center poll, taken Nov. 29 to Dec 2, showed 53 percent of Americans will blame Republicans, compared to 27 percent blaming President Obama, with only 12 percent faulting both equally.

Republicans, you lose on that one. Again.

While America’s economy is less vulnerable than it was, it is still vulnerable. The global economy, however, teeters on the brink of destruction.

So, while the fiscal cliff is a storm of our own making, should Republicans deliberately slit our collective throats by driving the world off that cliff, “Thelma & Louise” style? Do so, and there will be an evaporation of consumer confidence across the world, along with an evaporation of business decision-making, and that is where the cancer will begin. In fact, it is already happening all across Europe.

I don’t think Republicans are prepared to toss aside whatever confidence the rest of the world has in our political system just to protect the top 2 percent, because Democrats have the public on their side, and Boehner knows it. More importantly, he also knows Congress created this cliff with the short-term Band-Aid it applied to the economy during last summer’s crisis over the debt limit – you know, the GOP’s “dine and dash” threat to skip out on the bills that Congress had rung up – and that debacle had consequences for Boehner’s party in November.

Ironically, despite the inaction of Congress, America somehow remains poised for an economic renaissance. There have been two years of job growth, and the most recent jobs report provides another reminder of why we can’t afford to knock the economy off track.

This report was expected to be weak, with most economists predicting unemployment would rise back to eight percent, but instead the number of employed doubled most expectations and the unemployment rate dropped to its lowest level in four years. Now, admittedly, some of the long-term unemployed dropped out of the work force, but other short-term indicators are also looking good: Consumer debt is shrinking, the stock market has grown 13 percent so far this year, construction starts are up, mortgage interest rates are low – making home affordability as good as it’s been in generations, which will attract buyers who have been waiting for the bottom – and corporations are sitting on the greatest amount of wealth in modern history.

And this has all happened while Republicans in Congress play a game of Russian roulette.

The majority of Americans appear to have accepted that it will take the United States several more years to recover the millions of job losses caused by the Bush apocalypse, and that digging out of the cycle of deficit and debt won’t happen overnight. This is why we sent the president back to the White House.

Recent studies by the Congressional Budget Office reinforced Obama’s claims that a combination of slowed spending with increased tax revenue – regardless of whether through raising rates, eliminating deductions and loopholes or both – will lead to a sustained recovery that generates greater revenue for the government by fostering a larger overall economy.

The long-term prospects also support this outlook: We’re in the midst of a domestic energy boom, manufacturing is growing for the first time in decades, and Goldman Sachs recently predicted the stock market could grow upwards of 10 percent again in 2013.

To get there, Congress and the president must take hard decisions, which, by the way, Americans have a right to expect, no matter who is in charge. But first, Boehner and his caucus must recognize that private wealth is built on a foundation of common wealth, which is why the GOP must give up on their prized supply-side economics, at least for now. The polls, whether we’re talking about Obama’s reelection or those taken by news organizations, show that the American people are overwhelmingly with the Democrats on this.

Furthermore, the empirical evidence doesn’t support the Republicans’ “top down” arguments, either. Since the Bush tax cuts, the economy shed jobs at an alarming rate, and the average income of the bottom 90 percent of Americans dropped to levels not seen since 1966-67. Concurrently, wealth was redistributed upwards, with the top 1 percent experiencing an income jump from $4 million per year to $22 million per year in that same period.

Americans have clearly stated that they expect a fairer playing field, so Obama will lead Boehner to the proverbial water of a Grand Bargain. Will Republicans in the 112th Congress allow their leader to take a drink or just say no – again – preferring to wait and see where the proverbial chips fall come January, after the 113th Congress is sworn in?

It is my hope that Boehner will take that drink, because if he’s learned anything over his twenty-something years in Washington, it’s that Russian roulette is a very dangerous game.

Just 21 more days until we have our answer.


John Zaring describes himself as a reformed Republican turned moderate Democrat who believes democracy works best when its government actually functions because its leaders are working together. He serves on the Castaic Area Town Council’s Land Use Committee, Castaic Middle School’s Site Council, the Hart District’s WiSH Education Foundation, and he is the West Ranch High School representative on the Hart District’s Advisory Council. A self-proclaimed “New Democrat” a la Bill Clinton, he lives in Castaic with his wife of 21 years and their daughters, Fiona, 16, and Kylie, 12. His commentary publishes Tuesdays.



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  1. EJody says:

    Still blaming Bush instead of Obama’s first term and the supermajority Democrats held– and did nothing with. Sad, but yet another typical Democrat. Until Mr. Obama releases his cavalier my-way-or-the-highway bullying and accepts at least a tiny smidgen of responsibility for his colossal failures, what exactly would compel Republican leaders to cave in to piling taxes onto America’s job creators, sinking the boat we are all riding in, while wrecking America’s healthcare system and our military’s readiness all at the same time?

    Please tell me when the GOOD part of this plan kicks in for Americans.

    Every economist with half a brain has concluded that that taxing the “rich” (and it is ridiculous to lump in a couple in CA who own a home and struggle in their business to make $250,000 as being “rich”, equating them with the multimillionaires in Congress like John Kerry, the Kennedys, Cuomo’s, and Obama’s) will not even put a tiny dent in our deficit. That is NOT how the deficit will be corrected. There is not enough income there to do it. It’s a political ploy to appease his constituents…rob from the rich, give to the poor, redistribute wealth!

    The only man in D.C. playing Russian Roulette with our nation is the man most similar to socialists living in Russia: Barack Hussein Obama. And I don’t blame the Republicans not wanting to make a deal with the …. (I’ll let you finish the sentence.)

    • anonymousred15 says:

      You must not have any clue what its like to support 4 people on an annual income of 29k. If you are “struggling” at 250k, then your business management/accounting skills must be lacking.

      I think you are living in another world compared to the one the rest of us are in. Did you forget, like most other conservatives, about the eight years of nearly constant spending that Bush and the republicans had? It seems that you did. Two wars, medicare drug plan, tax cuts….none of which were paid for. But that’s okay, right? Because he was a republican, right?

      You and others who share your shortsighted and misguided opinions know nothing of the real america. Its in shambles because of Bush

  2. Kale says:

    The reality is that I elected my congressman to fight tax increases, balance the budget and reduce the debt. I do not care what other people voted for, as all branches of government are equal and are beholden to their constitutes.

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