Where to begin in commenting on the fiscal cliff fiasco? Let’s start on Dec. 28.
That’s when the offices of Sen. Mark Pryor, Sen. John Boozman and Rep. Tim Griffin jointly announced that Congress had passed legislation to rename a Little Rock post office after the late Gov. Sid McMath.
We’ll return to that, but first, let’s review the fiscal cliff fiasco itself.
In 2011, Congress and the president set this Jan. 1 deadline for automatic spending cuts and tax increases. The idea was to create something supposedly so bad that leaders in Washington, unable to tax and spend responsibly on their own, would be forced to at least do something constructive.
They didn’t. Proposals flew back and forth and were ignored. There was a big election where, as usual, the nation’s long-term fiscal health took a back seat to legitimate immediate concerns, plus a lot of nonsense. By New Year’s Day, Congress and the president were simply trying to avert the short-term consequences of their inaction.
The new deal doesn’t do much to address the fact that the government now borrows 41 cents of every dollar it spends. The automatic spending cuts were simply delayed for two months. In other words, they made a new fiscal cliff.
Meanwhile, not much was done to increase revenues. Taxes increased from 35 percent to 39.6 percent for the few who make more than $400,000 a year, tax cuts for most everyone else were extended and nothing has yet been done about the loopholes and deductions that litter the tax code.
As Fort Smith pastor Kevin Thompson wrote in an email, “Why do I love politics: Congress voted for a tax cut which 24 hours earlier would have been a tax increase, and it will cause my paycheck to go down. They reduced the deficit by making it go up four trillion dollars.”
From Arkansas, Boozman, Pryor, Rep. Steve Womack and Rep. Mike Ross voted yes. Griffin and Rep. Rick Crawford voted no.
Apart from the fiscal cliff, the payroll taxes that fund Social Security will increase by 2 percent for every American worker this year. That will sting, but we have to pay for Social Security if we want to keep it, and we have to pay more if we refuse to reform it.
Back to that post office. The joint announcement by the one Democrat and two Republicans was a reminder that the state’s congressional delegates do cooperate. They sometimes together tout minor appropriations for Arkansas-based projects, like a grant for some research effort. They’ve worked as a team to preserve the mission of Fort Smith’s 188th Fighter Wing. So far they have failed, but they surely have tried.
They do these things because some are easy (renaming a post office) and for those that aren’t, they know that Arkansans expect them to work together on issues that directly affect them. If something like the 188th were lost because of partisan bickering, voters seriously might consider sending someone else to Washington.
Unfortunately, Americans don’t yet consider fiscal insanity and dysfunctional governance reasons to send someone else to Washington. This past election, voters across this country granted their stamp of approval on $16 trillion in debt by re-electing mostly the same people who had a big hand in creating it.
So basically, the fiscal cliff fiasco is our fault because Americans keep electing these people, and then we don’t hold them accountable when they fail to work together to solve problems — which, history has shown, they are capable of doing.
Congress and the president would behave like statesmen and stateswomen if voters absolutely demanded it because they do other things that voters absolutely demand.
We’re not yet demanding it.
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Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. His blog — Independent Arkansas — is linked at arkansasnews.com. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org