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The Fiscal Mess: Death By A Thousand Cuts

 January 02, 2013 06:30 PM


Whomever came up with the term fiscal cliff to describe the expiration of the Bush tax cuts and the simultaneous sequester of across the board spending cuts did not do us any favors. I honestly had hoped we would get both. But that was never going to happen once it was framed as driving over a cliff. Who wants to do that?

Instead we got some small deal that essentially raises taxes on the highest earners and a kick the can approach on everything else. We are going to address our ridiculously high deficit in a series of crisis driven deadlines instead of the rational way, which is to sit down and hammer out a "grand bargain."

I do agree that cutting spending in some sort of brain dead across the board sequester is not ideal. And I also believe that phasing in our bad tasting but necessary fiscal medicine is better for the economy and so a more prudent policy.

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But here is the deal. We are spending way too much money in our federal government and we aren't bringing in enough revenue. The original grand bargain between Boehner and Obama which would have cut spending by $4.5 trillion over ten years and raised about half of that in new revenues over the same time period was the right idea. That would have gotten our annual deficit down to sub $500bn which still seems like a huge amount to me.

Now we are going to do the thing that every CEO tries to avoid, and that is death by a thousand cuts. It is demoralizing to everyone and painful to watch. And because our political system is so polarized and politicized, I can't imagine we will ever get to the $750bn in annual deficit reduction we will need to get our fiscal house in order.

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I know that many in this community will point the figure out Obama and cite his ongoing lack of leadership (and his instinct to play politics) on this issue. I think that criticism is fair. But to some degree Obama is being driven to this place by an even worse behavior by the tea party wing of the Republican party who made a silly pledge to avoid raising taxes and now have to live up to it. The elder Bush (who I sure hope is feeling better) made a stupid pledge like that and lost out on a deserved second term as a result. When will the right wing of our government stop making taxes their third rail? And when will the left wing of our government understand that entitlements are a cancer growing inside this country that must be addressed now?

At times like this, I see the value in dictatorships (at least benevolent ones) and parliamentary systems. We need leadership that can address the issue head on and make the hard but necessary decisions to get our fiscal house in order. And we don't have that in this country. In either party. It sucks.

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