In perhaps the most depressing display of divided quasi-parliamentary government, Congress eventually managed to pass legislation to avert the worst of the fiscal cliff: if only that were something to feel better about. The reality is that the actions taken by Congress have fallen far short of any sort of meaningful compromise and has merely set the stage for more mindless ideological bickering and blathering in the weeks to come. Lest we forget that this entire debacle was created by Congress in the first place as an attempt to force action. Congratulating Congress on averting an impending self inflicted fiscal disaster is like congratulating an arsonist for putting out their own fire.
In fairness the deal does do some good things, for example: the top tax rate returned to 39.6 percent for individuals making over $400,000 per year ($450,000 for couples), many of the Bush era tax levels have been maintained for middle income earners, taxes on capital gains and dividends for those earning less than $400,000 will remain at 15 percent. Estate taxes on estates over $5 million have returned to 40 percent per person; renewable energy tax credits have been extended through 2013 and unemployment benefits have been extended for two million Americans through the end of 2013.
While this is all well and good and only a snapshot of the totality of the deal; these accomplishments are far from impressive, nothing to be proud of, and frankly just another example of why so many people hate Congress. Instead of a deal that took actionable steps towards reducing debt while reeling in spending and raising revenues; what we got was a bill that according to the Congressional Budget Office will add $3.6 trillion in debt over ten years to the already sickening $16.4 trillion we already owe.
It is getting to the point where I am beginning to think that this money is not actually real. I cannot imagine what $16.4 trillion looks like and I don’t think many of you could either; it’s as if the government is playing Monopoly except they keep hitting “Free Parking” and the American taxpayers keep getting sent to jail and having their houses taken away.
At times adrift in the nauseating media coverage praising compromise in the face of a near self inflicted financial conflagration which would have most likely torched the already shaky recovering economy is the fact that this deal is not at all what this country needed. At best, it is a cog in the dam; a temporary stopgap that has merely postponed the sequestration for two months and failed to extend the payroll tax holiday thusly resulting in additional taxes for 77 percent of Americans regardless of income level; for example: an individual making $50,000 per year who is paid twice a month will lose $41.67 per pay check. While a major income tax increase has been averted for now, a tax increase is imminent and Americans will still feel the pain from our “leaders” inability to act like adults, put ideology aside and work for the people.
In February and early March, Congress will be faced with more unquestionably contentious decisions that they will without a doubt dawdle and yell about, making little progress until it is almost too late; including whether or not to raise the debt ceiling once again as the previous ceiling was hit on New Year’s Eve. Around the same time, the sequestration postponement will have run its course; leaving the one organization in the United States that is more dysfunctional than the New York Jets and NHL combined to deal with looming sequestration, government default and government shutdown all at once.
The American people should be looking forward to Congressional free agency in 2014, because this type of dysfunction is flatly unacceptable.
It is not surprising that our leaders put politics ahead of policy. Congress, for whatever reason, seems content at operating at approval ratings that would get any other employee fired, 18 percent at last check (Dec. 19th, Gallup).
However unsurprising this kind of politicking and ineffectiveness is; what is infuriating is the relative complacency with which the American public and media seem to tolerate this sort of dysfunction and irresponsibility. During the Greek debt crisis there were riots in the streets, protests and demonstrations that painted our newscasts daily. Yet during the kindergarten-esque behavior and political hostage taking of the past year that preceded this no deal deal, there have been no mass demonstrations, and no protests that have been actively covered by the national media since the Occupy movement faded from their scope.
That is not to say there have not been small local protests, but chances are good you haven’t heard about them unless you have sought out information on them. How long can we continue to tolerate this? We stand on the precipice of a two month long barrage of political barbs, threats, lies and accusations and inaction that will threaten the very well being of our nation and threaten to force a fundamental change in the way we as Americans live our lives.
This change will not be one we chose actively, it will be one we have chosen passively by choosing to pay more attention to American Idol, Glee and what Kim Kardashian wore on New Year’s Eve than the rapacious looting of the American populous and the inability of our leaders to do their job and lead. Americans need to stop armchair quarterbacking their political involvement. We as a people need to institute a fundamental shift in our lives, becoming more engaged in our politics (watching cable news does not count), less engaged in consumerism and propaganda and more invested in our future. If we continue on our current path, the fiscal cliff debacle will look like a mere speed bump in a precipitous decline.