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A ‘fiscal cliff,’ or a few steps down?

There has been much hand-wringing this past month over the brinksmanship being displayed as the Obama administration and the Republican House of Representatives attempt to negotiate a way to sidestep the “fiscal cliff” over which the economy threatens to plunge on Jan. 2.

Getting far less attention are those who ask what the fuss is all about.

Back in August 2011, Republicans agreed to allow more government borrowing (“raising the debt ceiling”) only on condition that a Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction be empaneled to produce legislation by late November 2011, intended to decrease the deficit by $1.2 trillion over 10 years, reversing our national march toward bankruptcy.

But in case Mr. Obama might decline to embrace the recommendations of his own Simpson-Bowles commission (which is precisely what he did), Republicans inserted a default remedy: sizable tax hikes and budget cuts to take effect Jan. 2, 2013.

The power to avoid the fiscal cliff was in the hands of the Democratic majority. They did nothing because they have no interest in reducing spending to avoid insolvency, and never have.

True, raising taxes during a recession is a bad idea. But what is ObamaCare, other than a huge tax hike on the middle class? Besides, the Republican House long ago passed a law that would extend the so-called “Bush tax cuts,” leaving tax rates where they are. The stalemate over taxes continues precisely because the Democratic Senate and White House decline to pass that bill into law, vowing to “go over the cliff” unless Republicans agree to raise taxes on the business owners and entrepreneurs whom Mr. Obama and Nevada’s own Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid dub “the rich.”

This despite the fact that everyone knows raising taxes on “the rich” would yield what amounts to a drop in the bucket.

But leave taxes aside. Federal spending should be slashed by five times the amount now making the big spenders’ blood run cold.

“I’m still perplexed by this whole idea that a fiscal cliff occurs when you sequester or cut federal spending,” says Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul. “I thought that was a good thing. I thought we needed to cut more spending. I don’t even understand why cutting spending or sequestering spending is a fiscal cliff.”

And when the “fiscal cliff” is somehow sidestepped or modified, at the last minute? Why, shortly thereafter will come another desperate panic over the need to again raise the ever-temporary “debt ceiling,” of course.

As the great Baltimore newsman H.L. Mencken once observed, “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”


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