Falling All Over Ourselves
The “Fiscal Cliff”, and America the failure
As I write this, America is plummeting ever quicker, day-by-day toward the end of the world. December 21st, 2012 if the Mayans did their math right and the signs aren’t wrong: on this date one awful event will bring to bear the apocalypse street preachers have warned us of for years. It will begin innocently enough, as in a wood paneled room on America’s east coast, votes are counted. Yet as the totals are reached, it will become clear that a moment decades in the making is taking place: the Republican party has been forced to agree to raise taxes. In an instant, the throbbing aneurism in John Boehner’s brain will explode. At the same time, Sheldon Alderson’s soul will give up the ghost and shuffle off to hell. And simultaneously, Grover Norquist will begin vomiting bile until his beady little eyes roll back in his head and his organs give out in sheer repugnance at his existence.
As the tent poles of the old Republican guard fall, tri-tone, hand-in-hand to hades, the fabric of space-time will tear before the vacuum of evil left in their wake. Through this tear the universe will be sucked into a heretofore un-observed astrophysical phenomenon: a White Hole. It’s like a black hole, swallowing all matter in its path, except that it has a strange aversion to black holes: those it relegates to lower-income parts of the universe and tries to cut funding from their schools. Incidentally, the White Hole is also not a fan of various colors of nebula, red dwarf or yellow suns, or really anything in the universe a “Martha Stewart Home Collection” shade of white off from the ice planet Hoth.
But, I kid. Sort of. Listening to the incredulous cries from the criminally insane chess game happening in the Capitol this month, you really might think this is what’s going on and what’s at stake. Monday, hopes that the Republican rebuttal to President Obama’s budget proposal would be a step toward sorting this mess out lasted all of an hour, until the White House flatly rejected the plan calling it “out of balance” (ironic considering their own top-heavy, foot-dragging approach to fixing the issue).
Let’s picture what would happen at this point in a perfect world. In that idyllic existence the forces of competition would come to bear and create an all-out bidding war on the defecit. Republicans took a bigger swipe at it than President Obama without tax hikes; now it’s Democrats’ turn to show they’re even more serious by combining a sizable portion of these spending cuts with their desired tax rate increases. Right? Oh sweet Lord, how I wish it were so. Instead I’m sure we will continue down the same path we’ve been on: the President demanding rates increase and not making as many cuts as are needed, Republicans rejecting the proposal (who could have seen that outcome!) and we’ll get to see more of John Boehner’s tan face and baby blues glowering in righteous indignation. I’m personally glad for the first outcome (returning taxes to their pre-Bush rates), but I couldn’t be more upset about the second; not because I don’t think Republicans don’t have a right to be angry (after all, they are being forced into a very uncomfortable position) but because I don’t see anything even approaching that level of outrage coming from Democrats. Or Independents. Or even the non-rank and file members of the Elephant Party. In fact, if the attitudes of everyone but our most soap-operatic right-wing senators and representatives could be believed, the country is not in a crisis at all.
But we are. Our country’s finances are in a woeful state, regardless of whom you want to blame for it—administrations past or present—and everyone agrees we can’t keep things going as they are. The economy still isn’t feeling like its old self, and in a sense maybe it never will considering that the housing market is no longer inflated like a dead cow, and bankers are (hopefully) no longer playing “Wild Wild West” with other peoples’ money. Overall, we’re in a tenuous mend. So what we need to fix all of this is a plan that cuts right down the middle: one that hacks away at the deficit and reduces our debt to promote long-term stability, but also won’t bomb the progress of private industry or sink the spending habits of average Americans.
How is it that the “great white hope” of America comes to the table proposing a plan that does almost nothing but make life more difficult for the bottom 98%. $300–600 Billion in cuts to entitlement programs, an expiration of the current Payroll Tax Credit, and the preservation (if not permanent adoption) of the Bush-era tax rates. It’s a plan flatly insulting to the entirety of working-class America, yet the nation just shrugs their shoulders. “Oh John Boehner…you scamp.” Why don’t I hear Democrats and Independents (I’m looking at you Lieberman) sharpening their pitchforks? Why is the side clearly erring on the side of caution not angrier about the unreasonable suggestions of the other?
Perhaps it’s an issue of education. Maybe lay people just don’t understand how much hogwash is circulating on this issue; lies that don’t even pass basic tests of logic. For instance, saying that raising taxes on the top 2% would starve investment and job creation. The idea is that small businesses, seeing less money in their pockets, will get scared out of the marketplace. Then why are republicans offering deduction eliminations to raise revenue? Is the outcome not exactly the same: less money in these peoples’ pockets? Out of one side of their mouth, Republicans say the rich can’t pay more because it’ll hurt the economy; out of the other they’re saying the rich can pay more, we have to do it in a way that negatively affects middle and lower-class Americans as well.
Then there’s the fact that the Republican party’s fundamental argument behind the whole issue is flat-out wrong: that we must protect Mom and Pop shops who pay taxes individual rates. It falls apart as soon as you examine it, as NPR did recently with this story. The Treasury Department examined this much-discussed top 2% of tax payers to find out just how many small business owners there actually were in the pool. They threw out people with day jobs who owned businesses on the side and capped household income at a number: $10 million. Annually. (Mom and Pop are doing quite well.) But even with that corporate-scale limit, how many of those individuals were actually small business owners, do you think?
“One in five taxpayers in those top two brackets is a small business owner. And of all the income in those brackets that would be taxed at a higher rate, only about 7 percent comes from small businesses.”
One in five. But more than that: just 7 percent of income would be affected by the rising rates. What I’m hearing now is that the Republican Party is willing to eliminate the Payroll Tax Cut, effectively removing about $1,000 from the pockets of average people, to protect the 7% of small business owners making less than $10 million from seeing their rates go up.
But it’s not just the payroll tax credit, is it. They also want cuts to “entitlement programs” like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Let me pause here and get on my soapbox. Referring to these programs as “entitlements” is disgraceful. While the literal definition of that term may be correct, in its connotation hides a low blow that these social programs are “services” people erroneously feel they deserve. After all, the only other common usage Americans have for the word “entitlement” is in the phrase “sense of entitlement”, which hasn’t carried a positive meaning since it was first uttered. Public figures who willingly pass along this label to medical care for the poor and medicine and basic subsistence needs for the elderly (who paid into the system their entire lives, by the way) are ignorant, apathetic, and poisoning the conversation about social programs for people too stupid or ignorant to educate themselves on what an “entitlement” really is. Stepping down now.
These days, I genuinely don’t understand what’s going on with the Republican Party. Why are the party’s moderate factions letting this recalcitrant fringe define their participation in our political process? Why have those Republicans who want a future in politics not seen that the wave of public opinion is mounting to crush them if they bungle this deal? And for Democrats, why are you so calm about this. Why are you letting those in the wrong spread holy vitriol, while you smugly cross your arms on your chests and pretend to be above it all? Are you so sure the Tea Partiers anarchists aren’t going to blink? From both sides of the aisle, in Washington and across the country, what I see is more than just a failure to engage in a tough issue: it is an outright apathy for the future of our country. It’s blatant disrespect for the gravity of this situation, and the lives of those who will be dearly affected by the outcome, allowing such an attitude to saturate our political process is blasphemous against the basic ideals on which America was founded: the freedom to make a choice as an individual. To steer something that matters toward a better tomorrow. Edging closer to the cliff, let us see if passions don’t finally come to light in this very real fight for the security of our nation. As for those civilians, congressmen and congresswomen who refuse to budge or stay aloof until the end, shame on you. And you deserve everything that comes to you on December 21st.