BEAM: We’re Not Going To Fall Off That Fiscal Cliff, Are We?

Pity the taxpayers of this country who are totally confused about all of this talk about the “fiscal cliff ” and “sequestration.” Members of Congress always manage to come up with new catch phrases that cover up their long-term failings. Unfortunately, nothing will change until they quit spending every ounce of their time, energy and our resources trying to hold on to their jobs.

The fiscal cliff refers to the $500 billion in tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to take place Jan. 2. It’s going to happen unless President Obama and Congress come up with a plan to start cutting the country’s $16-plus trillion national debt.

Congress passed the Budget Control Act in 2011. It set up a 12-member super committee that was supposed to come up with a plan to reduce the deficit by an additional $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion over 10 years. The act also set up some dire consequences (sequestration) if the super committee failed — the $500 billion in tax increases and spending cuts.

No one was really surprised when the super committee didn’t come up with a plan, and now the time of reckoning is close. Perhaps the saddest part of this money mess is the fact a workable plan was devised in 1985 that supporters said would end federal deficits by 1991.

Former U.S. Sen. Warren Rudman, 82, who died this week, was one of the sponsors of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act. He left the Senate in 1993, and said Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush played politics instead of insisting on spending cuts.

Former U.S. Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings of South Carolina said of Rudman, “He wasn’t extreme one way or the other, except for the good of the country. He was balanced. That’s what we need.”

Rudman talked about what might have been in 1995, 10 years after the law went on the books.

“Had we stuck to that plan, had the Congress not failed to follow it through — in fact, had presidents not failed to follow through — we would not be where we are today,” Rudman said.

Now, President Obama and Congress are right back where they have been so many times — at a fiscal crossroads. Will they solve our debt and money woes, or — once again — kick them down the road?

Four years of deadlock have made the situation so much worse. And make no mistake about it, the Grover Norquist no-tax pledge so many Republicans have signed has killed any chance at compromise. However, there could be a crack in the pledge wall. The Los Angeles Times in a Wednesday op-ed piece said Norquist is losing his grip.

The article said an increasing number of Republicans are reassessing their no-tax stands. Norquist had 238 signers in the House of Representatives, a majority of its 435 members. However, the Times said no more than 212 members of the new House membership consider themselves bound by the pledge — less than a majority.

“Some of Norquist’s signers lost their seats. Some newly elected Republicans say they see no reason to sign a formal pledge on taxes. And at least six House members who once signed say they no longer consider themselves bound by it,” according to the Times.

Maybe, and maybe not. We won’t know until near the end of the year how this is all going to play out. The president is sticking by his pledge to raise taxes on the nation’s wealthy, and Republicans are still resisting that move. Even so, political observers sounded encouraging after Obama met last Friday with congressional leaders.

The New York Times said many budget experts and economists would like to see a two-part solution. First, extend many of the George Bush tax cuts scheduled to expire and repeal the automatic spending cuts. Second, come up with a plan to reduce long-term deficits by reforming the tax code and fixing Medicare and Medicaid, two major drains on the budget.

Can the president and Congress get it done? Not unless the public insists they show some rare courage and are willing to put their political careers on the line in order to do the right thing. What we don’t need is for both sides to come up with more delaying tactics as they have done so often in the past.

Robert J. Samuelson of the Washington Post talked about the real dilemma in this country when Rudman decided to leave the Senate in 1992.

“Rudman … hit a raw nerve the other week by announcing he won’t seek re-election,” Samuelson said. “Rudman, one of Congress’ most respected members, said he’s frustrated. Government is spending itself into bankruptcy, and the problem is political leaders (in Congress and the White House) who won’t tell voters the truth — along with voters who don’t want to hear it.

“History sure has a way of repeating itself sometimes, doesn’t it?”

Let’s hope not. Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve Board chairman, said Tuesday the nation’s economy is in line for a major boost if the president and Congress can keep the country from falling off that fiscal cliff. It’s going to require some statesmanship and give-and-take by both sides, something we haven’t seen much of in the nation’s capital lately.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 337-494-4025 or [email protected].

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