Fear of the Fiscal Cliff

The fear of the fiscal cliff has taken hold of our national rhetoric. Numerous articles have been published to explain the fearsome cuts and unwanted tax rate increases that the so-called fiscal cliff entails and how it could affect our economy (even put us back into a recession!) if a budget deal is not forged by December 31, 2012.

The underlying message here: a deal must be made to avert a fiscal disaster (read: cliff) that our legislators brought upon us after avoiding the decision of whether to extend the Bush tax cuts and agree on a deficit deal last year. Also included in our national debate: do we want to go over the cliff? Is there a political benefit here? Once we’ve decided to let the Bush tax cuts expire and allowed massive cuts to domestic and military spending, can we take some of it back? Does this cliff come with a hidden stairway?

The question is not whether we should go over the fiscal cliff. No one in Congress has an interest in allowing this to happen, no matter what ingenious political strategy we are trying to call them out on. This was the exact idea behind the budget legislation in the first place, that it would hurt both parties too much for anyone to allow it to happen.

The question, instead, is whether during negotiations we can prevent cuts to vital services that might very well become part of a “debt deal” compromise. This is the ultimate negotiating tactic: threaten the very worst, so that what we actually get seems like a blessing in comparison.

We are being shown the steep cuts to services that would come as a result to “going over” the fiscal cliff, as though this were the real option on the table, so that we will feel more comfort in the idea that resulting cuts in a debt deal were not so severe. Make no mistake; we are ultimately going to be asked to settle: settle on cuts to public services, settle on minimal tax rate increases for the super-wealthy, and settle on the continuation of inflated military spending.

But we must not fall for the peer-pressure tactic of settling for the sake of compromise, particularly with services like Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security potentially on the chopping block. After an election season where Democrats and progressive policies clearly received the majority of the nation’s support, there is nothing holding us back from being able to make demands.

It is time for us to push Congress- this is what President Obama was talking about when he said he needed our help – to demand for what we need. Jobs, not cuts. Make the wealthy pay their fair share. If we don’t push our representatives to do what is needed for working people, no one will. And if that happens, we may as well push ourselves off of a cliff.

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