One reason that the current fiscal stalemate in Washington is so maddening is that average Americans cannot be sure even of what they should be most worried about.
Is it the congressionally ordered fiscal “cliff,” and the automatic tax increases and spending cuts that may be waiting at the bottom?
Is it the crushing national debt itself, around $16 trillion and counting?
Maybe it’s fear for the sustainability of Medicare and Social Security benefits for an aging U.S. population.
Or maybe it’s the thing that has been foremost in most Americans’ minds for the past four years: jobs, and the lack of them.
All of these problems are interrelated, but as lawmakers, the White House, pundits and special-interest groups all come at the economy from different angles, it exacerbates the fact that nothing substantive has been done about any of the above since well before the November election.
The “cliff” gets the most attention, with its deadline only a few weeks away. But some economists say the actual result of reaching no agreement before Jan. 1 is more of a “slope,” and that the warning of a sudden deep national recession is exaggerated.
Besides the solutions advanced by the Obama administration and congressional Republicans, organizations like the Campaign to Fix the Debt, of which former Gov. Phil Bredesen is a key player, are throwing their efforts into a “Grand Bargain.” This agreement would take months to finalize at best, and incorporate new taxes, cuts in discretionary spending and entitlement reforms in a bid to get the debt under control. But other organizations have questioned whether their motives are genuine.
Meanwhile, universities including Tennessee and Vanderbilt are urging Congress not to touch research funding, AARP is guarding Social Security and the defense industry is warning of dire workforce consequences if military spending is cut. Labor unions want to protect workers’ benefits, especially health care.
People without work, or without enough work, are inexorably dropping from the middle class into poverty in growing numbers — because no one in Washington will blink.
It can be President Obama. It can be Speaker Boehner. There is no advantage to anyone in this stalemate lasting any longer.
Someone needs to blink.