Commentary – fiscal cliff is just the latest rough patch in spending spree

There are a host of sayings that can be used to describe the progress of the “fiscal cliff” talks, and the politicians involved in them:

“As useless as tits on a bull.” – annonymous
“There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“We kill all the caterpillars, then complain there are no butterflies.” ― John Marsden

Some might consider this a harsh assessment of our political leaders, and the effort being expended on this matter. But when viewed without partisan preferences, or singular focus of blame, each quote (and more fit perfectly).

As useless as tits on a bull.

In each Congress since at least the 1950’s, and probably at least once in every Congress since it was created, this quote or a similar summarization has been used to describe the political on-goings. But with partisanship at levels not seen in some 40 years at least, the description takes on new meaning.

Since 2008 Congress, as a whole, has failed. With a Supermajority and then a simple majority, Congress under complete control of Democrats failed to pass a budget, failed to create programs to help homeowners keep their homes, failed to pass legislation the nation wanted, failed to live up to the overwhelming majority of campaign promises. In fact, the 2 major pieces of legislation that were passed were the Stimulus – which failed every major goal it was created to acheive – and the Health Care Reform – which required some Democrats to be coaxed with sweetheart backdoor deals, and most had to vote without having read the actual legislation.

Its a sad but true fact that this was perhaps the most productive time for Congress, as since 2010 there has been essentially no action. Lots of bluster, finger pointing, and talk of great ideas without a single fleshed out plan. This describes both political parties and both houses of Congress.

There is a caveat to this of course. Congress, and the Government as a whole, has continuously spent money it doesn’t have – unabated by recession, minimal economic growth, international catastrophe, elections, or even the direct threat (and then action) of downgrade of national creditworthiness.

The most blatant example of this was the debate on the debt ceiling in 2011, which resulted in a 12 member committee of Congress to has out a deal over 5 months to reduce spending and raise revenues (taxes collected). The saying among the youth of today is “epic fail”. Which brings us to the fiscal cliff – created by Congress and put off until a mere 2 1/2 months were left to resolve the problem.

This is not to say that Congress failed again, if political gridlock is considered an action in itself. If that is the case then that is a legendary success which we dare politicians of either party to run on in 2014.

“There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action”

Since the 1960’s the national debt has grown at rapid pace. The 1980’s signaled an even faster pace of debt growth. As the millenia came and went, debt growth reached new levels and entered into a realm of numbers normally reserved for astronomers.

In each decade the growth of debt was explained as necessary. Either because of economic strife or patriotic defense, the deficit was balloned without so much as a glance at the tally. In the rare instances where anyone mentioned the growing mountain of IOU’s, the answer was consistently along the lines of ‘Don’t worry, it’ll be fixed down the road when there is less to worry about.’

In the 80’s President Reagan had the Communists to defeat. In the 90’s President Clinton took full advantage of the internet bubble. As the first decade of the millenia started Bush had the Islamic fanatics and the economic meltdown of the burst dotcom bubble. In the 2nd decade, so far, there has been a push for fairness – without concern for how fair passing such a debt onto future generations might be.

Not one President has looked over the books and said to the nation, ‘I’d love to give more, but we just don’t have it. It’s time we pare down a bit, so we have something left in the future.’ Not one President presented a budget that took on debt interest, or failed to increase the total national debt. Yes, even under Clinton (with all the exuberance of the dot com’s) the debt increased from $4.3 trillion in 1993 to $5.6 trillion in 2000. A slow pace, but an increase every year without fail.

Currently, the national deficit exceeds the GDP of the nation. A scenario that the White House (via the CBO) and the House GOP projects to be essentially even under their equally rose-colored glasses view of the economy. That’s the best case scenarios – which government never achieves (see the abovementioned committee of 12).

President’s, and Congress, spend and talk as if there is always time to fix the problem – in 10 or 20 years. All we have to do is get past a rough patch currently, and it will all work out. Except there is always a rough patch and the nation has never seen the day Congress or the President is ready to deal with the issue. Right now the solution is to do just enough to get past the problem at hand, and then figure a way to pass the buck down the road 10 years.

It’s the equivalent of Government sticking its collective heads in the sand and stating that they don’t see a problem so there must not be one.

“We kill all the caterpillars, then complain there are no butterflies.”

There are exactly 3 ways to fix a fiscal fiasco like the national deficit.

  1. Stop spending money and pay off debt – won’t happen because a nation, like a household, has bills to pay and things that need to be maintained and/or fixed.
  2. Increase taxes and pay of debt – won’t happen, because bleeding the rich dry still won’t pay the bill that’s due. Plus, if all the rich actually sat back and were rendered poor, who would be left to create new businesses? How many poor people are starting new industries or maintaining them?
  3. Cut back spending, eliminate unnecessary spending, raise taxes modestly, and tough it out til the debt is at least managable – not happening. No politician wants to have that conversation with constituents, constituents don’t want to give up anything they are getting, and everyone hates higher taxes.

That leaves the only choice, which is being actively pursued – spend like there is no tomorrow, appease creditors with some financial juggling that does nothing, give constituents more, and blame the other politician for everything.

Any serious review of every plan on the table results in a single thought, slightly reduce the amount of future spending (which is at higher levels than today) and tell the public that it will get fixed by some future politicians when things are better. Have we heard that before?

People like to say that America is addicted to oil, or wars, or placating the masses with “free stuff”, but none of that is really right. America is hooked on spending. The Government, under all incarnations of political parties for decades past and present, is the ultimate shopaholic. We have printing presses and a credit card seemingly without limit, at least drunken sailors have to wait til payday.

Will the fiscal cliff stop the spending or cause a reduction in debt? According to every plan being offered by both sides, NO. If the fiscal cliff hits, what will happen?

There is no exact vision for this, but at a wild guess, emergency funding for every part of the government at wildly expensive interest rates until a deal that sounds credible is hashed out that will “fix” the problem over 20 years, backed by financial wizardry that makes a ponzi scheme look simple and plausible. Inflation will rocket, and a lot of people will be out of work. But politicians will promise that it’s only a rough patch.

“It truly must be a joy to be employed as an elected politician. Only an elected official can gain praise for doing their job poorly, if at all. Only a politician can claim success in the face of failure. Only an elected official can expect to be rewarded with continued work, while their constituents are upset and the repercussions of their action detract from the quality of life…

But, if you thought the debt was a problem before it still is, and growing. If you thought President Obama is a great leader and his policies all work, you will still think so. If you think that Democrats spend too much, or Republicans protect the rich from taxes, or that this whole thing was about the skin tone of the President your opinion will not have changed.” – August 1, 2011

About the Author

Michael Vass
Born in 1968, a political commentator for over a decade. Has traveled the U.S. and lived in Moscow and Tsblisi, A former stockbroker and 2014 Congressional candidate. Passionate about politics with emphasis on 1st and 2nd Amendments.

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