The fiscal cliff. If you’ve been reading the headlines offered up by pundits and politicians, you would most likely view this dilemma, one which has dominated the headlines since five minutes after President Obama’s re-election, as a recession-creating, Christmas-ruining, budget behemoth poised to strike come January. Warning shots have been fired off from both sides, and a standoff into the New Year seems imminent. But is that really even a bad thing?
A grand bargain isn’t what either side of the aisle wants. If it were, it would have already happened back in 2011, or Congress would be in a bigger hurry this time around. The notion that we can simply push back the arrival time of our nation’s largest economic problems is a frustrating idea, but as much of a potential economic backtrack as it may be, it simply doesn’t make sense for either side to have a deal just for the sake of agreement if it isn’t what’s best for either side and their core values.
Not coming to an agreement makes sense politically for the GOP. Republicans have neither adequate leverage nor public opinion to gain anything out of a rushed deal. The debt ceiling talks come February will shift some approval to the Republican stance, as the more fiscally concerned the country is, the better the conditions for Republican leverage. (See the 2010 mid-term elections.) Letting the taxes return to Clinton-era levels changes the argument from raising taxes (an absolute Grover Norquist no-tax pledge no-no) to which taxes to cut, making the current Republicans once again look like the champions of tax cuts. It also forms more class solidarity, as the middle- and lower-class constituency can’t effectively complain about tax hikes and not let the upper class complain as well.
Democrats have even less of a reason to give up their key principles and compromise. They won the White House, gained seats in both congressional chambers, and currently hold favorable margins in public opinion polling. Add the November jobs report and the lowest unemployment rate since 2008 to the mix and it looks like the Democratic message is working. President Obama was re-elected on the promise of social welfare guarantees and compelling the wealthiest of Americans to pay a larger share. To fail to do both would well would not bode well for a second-term leader mindful of his presidential legacy.
All that being said, a fair agreement must be made in the near future. But it must be one that is built on integration of ideas, not compromise down the middle that leaves both sides unhappy and constituents angry at their elected officials. These fiscal decisions must be based on the core values that got them elected, rather than compromise or interests alone.
Surely there is an integrative solution that allows both sides to claim victory on their top priority instead of feeling dissatisfied with issues across the board. (Here’s a possible idea: Large cuts in less-prioritized military and non-military spending in exchange for lots of revenue from up top.) It’s not like both parties care only about one issue and nothing else. It’s simply a matter of priorities. Washington needs to build a specific plan centered around both party’s core values and only compromising when those core values are pulling both sides apart.
Don’t confuse positions with core values. “No new taxes” is a position, not a core value like growth or responsibility. “Pre-Bush tax cuts for the wealthy” is a position, not a value like fairness or equal opportunity. The Democratic core value (surrounding this issue) can be summarized as the idea that wealthiest of Americans, those who have benefited most from the societal structures in place, should pay a larger share than what they do currently, while the Republican essential goal is essentially an efficient, sensible, and deservedly allocated national budget that does not handicap the short-term and long-term prosperity of America. Our leaders must be willing to change their positions, but never give up their correct core values.
It’s imperative that both Democrats and Republicans begin to shake off their respective negative narratives: that the current Democratic Party is betraying their progressive liberal past (landmarks like the New Deal and the Great Society Acts) for a spineless, too accommodating, moderate new liberalism; and that the GOP is too out of touch and non-inclusive of modern day America. Both sides have every reason to come together to solve this issue.
While a deal that convinces constituents, businesses, and investors to believe in the future America may take time, it is unfair to hold hostage the very nation Congress wishes to serve. It will only add to the growing apathy towards American politics. Congress owes it to us to focus on creating a just and principled deal. This is an opportunity for the Republic to show its worth. It could be a truly remarkable decision that, if done well and to principle, could lead the country into a new birth of prosperity, an elevated level of national debate, and a renewed faith in our democratically elected government.
If “diving off the fiscal cliff’ is what it will take to sincerely talk about how we wish our to society to function as we move deeper into the 21st century, then maybe we should take the plunge — together.