The so-called "fiscal cliff" was never real. Congress and the President invented it during last year's negotiations, apparently to persuade voters that unpopular budget measures were needed to avoid a crisis. With the collapse of John Boehner's "Plan B," that gambit has failed. What now?
That's easy: The moving finger of Washington, having writ, can unwrite.
The "fiscal cliff" was never real. It was virtual reality. Now it's time for our leaders to take off the goggles and get back to work.
Coalition of the Willing
Thanks to this self-created panic, many politicians in both parties were willing to impose Draconian cuts to Social Security -- even though it doesn't contribute to the deficit -- through the machinations of the "chained CPI" the President put on the table this week.
They were willing to use the same tool to impose a tax hike on middle class income -- one that spared the wealthy by excluding the highest levels of earning.
They were willing to ask middle class Americans to sacrifice much more than defense contractors.
Now they've been given the opportunity for a reprieve. They should tell the President they want that reprieve -- and they need it, if only for their re-election prospects.
The artificial crisis limited the discourse, too. Newspapers talked of little else. They certainly didn't pay much attention to the more pressing economic problems we face: Case in point: Extended unemployment insurance is about to expire, while the nation is experiencing record levels of long-term unemployment.
A Google News search on ..."fiscal cliff" yielded 69 million hits this morning. That's "about 69,300,000 hits," to be precise. How many hits did "long-term unemployment" get this morning?
Centrist/liberal Democratic commentary focused heavily on this sharply limited debate, too, producing a lot of variations on the "cliff vs. Obama compromise" theme like this piece from Ezra Klein. There's even an interactive "Choose your own fiscal cliff adventure!" feature on Ezra's Washington Post WonkBlog site.
(To be fair, the title's probably meant ironically, and the interactive part's pretty cool. I'm not objecting to coverage of the "cliff," either, but to coverage that excludes or de-emphasizes other, better choices. And, 69 million hits vs. 27,000 hits says that's a valid objection.)
When it came to reframing the argument, the fiscal cliff's architects can say "Mission Accomplished." But their plan failed anyway. The public still hates their proposals.