The election is over, but there is real work to be done in Washington before President Obama even begins his second term. On Jan. 1, about seven and a half weeks from now, we take a flying leap over the fiscal cliff unless Obama and Congress can strike a deal to avoid it. Oh, and the debt ceiling will probably have to be raised again before the end of 2012, too.
How should Obama and Congress steer us away from the fiscal cliff? (Please vote for one tax option and one spending option)
Total Voters: 163
This time, Obama is inheriting a mess from himself. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that going over the fiscal cliff would plunge us back into recession and push the unemployment rate back above 9 percent. So it’s a pretty darn important issue.
If Bob Woodward’s recent book portrayed him accurately, as a man who misreads his negotiating partners and overestimates his ability to best them, he’ll need every bit of those seven and a half weeks to reach an accommodation with the still-Democratic-held Senate and the still-GOP-led House.
(Obama’s first order of business? He’s leaving next week for a trip to visit three crucial allies of ours: Thailand, Burma and Cambodia.)
By all accounts, Obama and Congress will be taking another shot at the kind of “grand bargain” they nearly reached in the summer of 2011 before Obama reportedly tried to squeeze more revenue out of the deal and Speaker John Boehner balked. In practical political terms, this means Obama and Boehner have to cut a deal: The Senate has been an inoperable mess the past two years, there appears to be no bridge between Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and in his post-re-election afterglow Obama can afford to twist the arms of Senate Democrats even without Reid’s cooperation (and maybe some House Democrats without Nancy Pelosi’s help) if that’s what it takes.
In practical policy terms, we can expect some combination of more revenue and less spending. Any more detail beyond that is where it gets cloudy.
More revenue can take a lot of forms: Higher tax rates, fewer tax loopholes, some combination of the two, something totally new (such as a federal consumption tax, like the VATs in Europe). In reality, the revenue situation is not going to improve until the economy gets back to its pre-recession self.
Likewise, spending cuts mean different things to different people. In Washington, a spending “cut” usually really means slower increases in spending than would have happened otherwise. That has worked in the past, but time is no longer on our side. The only way merely slower growth in spending would work is if it takes place in a serious way in the main drivers of budget deficits: Social Security, Medicare and, to some degree, Medicaid.
So, what’s the best way to go about each problem? That’s this week’s Poll Position question. See the choices in the nearby poll and vote — you’ll be able to select two, preferably one on the tax side and one on the spending side — and then explain your position in the comments thread below.
– By Kyle Wingfield