Over the past few weeks, serious negotiations have been taking place in order to avoid the ‘fiscal cliff,' the forecasted problem the country will face if the recent tax cuts expire and the automatic budget cuts kick in. According to The Washington Post, failure to act before a possible fiscal cliff occurs in January will result in significant tax increases on 90 percent of the country, as well as $65 billion in budget cuts, likely resulting in another recession.
Both sides have placed the blame on the other. Democrats point out they’ve presented many proposals and Republicans have not responded with an agreeable solution. Republicans say the White House is not taking the fiscal cliff seriously. In other words, once more, bipartisanship has given way to gridlock.
The scary part is that most will lose in this game. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that, if nothing is done, the gross domestic product (GDP) of the U.S. will likely shrink by half a percent for the year. Unemployment will likely rise, with 2.5 million less jobs than if current policies were continued. As noted, taxes will increase for most Americans. Further, government functions will see cuts between eight and 10 percent, and not just limited to smaller programs. Big organizations such as the U.S. Navy will feel the burden, in addition to other causes like education.
If so much is at stake, why aren’t politicians working together on a solution? In part, it may be because true bipartisanship is such a foreign concept to many representatives that they don’t know how to make it happen -- no matter how much they promise it every election season. Unfortunately, delaying to find a possible solution may have negative repercussions.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke spelled it out to the Economic Club of New York quite clearly: “Currently, uncertainties about the situation in Europe and especially about the prospects for federal fiscal policy seem to be weighing on the spending decisions of households and businesses as well as on financial conditions. Such uncertainties will only be increased by discord and delay. In contrast, cooperation and creativity to deliver fiscal clarity--in particular, a plan for resolving the nation's longer-term budgetary issues without harming the recovery--could help make the new year a very good one for the American economy.”
True results occur when multiple ideas are brought together. That’s the real power of democracy and the real power of partnership. As Bernanke noted, delaying action will only harm the American people. And, since politicians are supposed to speak for those people, the first step is to understand what they want. The next is to work together to find a common solution.
Our recent past suggests that reaching over party lines will be followed by petty arguments and name-calling. However, true partnership is possible if a few calculated steps are taken. First, as noted, elected officials need to understand what the people want. This is more than participating in a few meet-and-greets. It means analyzing the populations, reading in-depth surveys, and applying their wishes to the next step, which is working through them together. In the end, it’s unlikely that a side will be 100 percent satisfied. However, satisfying a few requirements from each party is better than brinksmanship until one party gives in.
When the future of the nation is at stake -- and that future will largely affect those who aren’t in power -- it’s vital to forget who’s a Democrat and who’s a Republican and instead focus on an actual solution. Only then can we start working together to solve issues that won’t go away on their own and meet the needs of the people on a collective scale -- not just benefit one party.
What are your thoughts on the fiscal cliff? Is the solution true bipartisanship or is there another way out?
Rand Strauss is the President and CEO of PeopleCount.org, a nonpartisan organization that enables the public to communicate constructively by taking stands on political issues influencing the country today. Connect with Rand and PeopleCount.org on Twitter and Facebook.