Avoiding the “fiscal cliff” boils down to enough congressional Republicans facing up to reality and putting aside a dishonest ideology.
Under a stopgap budget deal made last year, all Bush-era tax cuts are set to expire at the end of this year, with $110 billion in across-the board spending cuts to take effect at that time. With taxes going up on middle class Americans by about $2,000 a year and crucial programs cut, this move is expected to invite a recession, with Michigan losing about 110,000 jobs.
Maintaining their tradition of class warfare and fiscal irresponsibility, Republicans want to keep all the Bush-era income tax cuts in place; make major cuts in Social Security, which has nothing to do with the deficit, Medicare and Medicaid; and eliminate $800 billion in unspecified tax deductions and loopholes.
President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats want to keep the Bush-era tax cuts in place for the 98 percent of Americans who make less than $250,000 if they have families or $200,000 if they are individuals, with the rate on the richest 2 percent increasing from 35 to 39.6 percent; raise the estate tax to 2009 levels; increase tax rates on capital gains and dividends; cut Medicare spending by $400 billion over 10 years by allowing it to negotiate bulk discounts with pharmaceutical companies and achieving administrative savings, with no benefit cuts and no increase in the eligibility age; and $50 billion in job creating stimulus spending on public infrastructure projects, such as roads and bridges. Social Security, which provides 90 percent of income for some elderly people, is off the table.
Having been re-elected a month ago by a decisive margin, while Republicans lost seats in both houses of Congress, Obama is in a strong negotiating position. Polling finds that 75 percent of Americans approve Obama’s handling of the economy, 60 percent favor letting Bush-era tax cuts for the richest 2 percent expire, including 63 percent of independents, and, if the economy goes off the “fiscal cliff,” Republicans would be blamed, by a 53 to 27 percent margin.
A bill to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the bottom 98 percent of us, while allowing the cuts to expire for the richest 2 percent, passed the Senate in July by a 51-48 vote and is now before the House, which Republicans control. Obama wants the House to pass this bill as the first element of a deficit deal, but nearly all congressional Republicans have tied their own hands by signing the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” devised by Grover Norquist, founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR).
This pledge, signed by 41 of 47 Republican senators and 238 of 242 Republican House members, requires them to oppose all income tax rate increases and only agree to close loopholes and reduce deductions if matched by spending cuts. In the 113th Congress that takes office in January, the number of pledge signers will be reduced to 39 of 45 in the Senate and 219 of 234 in the House. All eight Michigan House Republicans, along with Rep.-elect Kerry Bentivolio (R-Milford), have signed the pledge. None have indicated a willingness to break away from it, with Bentivolio so mindless, he said that before voting on a deficit deal, “I’d check with Grover. I’d ask his opinion before I did anything else.”
Norquist, 56, founded ATR in 1985 at then-President Ronald Reagan’s request. An ignorant and narrow-minded man, he said, “When I became 21, I decided that nobody learned anything about politics after the age of 21.” So much for an ability to learn and grow, particularly from experience. As a nonprofit organization, ATR is not required to disclose the identity of its contributors, who are probably wealthy individuals, foundations and corporate interests. As a front man for the rich, Norquist is so reactionary that he wants to reduce the federal government to its 19th century scope, saying, “I’m not in favor of abolishing the government. I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” Active with the Tea Party and a co-author of the 1994 Contract on America, he also wants to replace the federal income tax with a highly regressive sales tax.
The pledge by itself doesn’t prevent congressional Republicans from independent thinking and action. The clout behind it comes from the rich puppet masters Norquist fronts for, who are capable of bankrolling right wing extremist primary challengers to Republicans who break ranks. But reality is beginning to set in, with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) conceding that taxes will go up on the rich. Several prominent Republicans, including Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Reps. Peter King (R-NY) and Tom Cole (R-OK), have already broken ranks.
Since the idiocy of plunging off the “fiscal cliff” would be bad for everybody, don’t be surprised if just enough Republicans, particularly those who feel secure in office, break from this moronic pledge to provide the votes for a deficit deal, leaving the tone-deaf majority of their party colleagues on Norquist’s good side. We also shouldn’t be surprised to see a deal finalized just before the Dec. 31 deadline.