President Obama was the clear winner in the fiscal cliff debate and 13th hour deal that put the nation into the wringer through the New Year’s holiday, but that doesn’t mean that victory will be long-lasting. The House vote put the final approval on the legislation to tamp down a conservative Republican revolt under House Speaker John Boehner and required Democrats to carry the bill when it was clear he did not have the votes. The deal saved the nation from turmoil but will do little to address the core issue causing our economic instability — and that is our spending. This deal did nothing to contend with our $16.4 trillion debt that is sure to go even higher without careful consideration and action.
The fiscal cliff was set up to force legislators to contend with that difficult piece of the puzzle with a hard-and-fast deadline after the presidential election and before the end of 2012, but really before the 113th Congress meets for the first time today. What we got was new taxes for upper-income earners and the end of the payroll tax holiday we all enjoyed for two years. Both will only put a mere dent in our rising deficit. Though Obama was able to eviscerate Boehner’s leadership by placing the impact of the cliff squarely in his hands New Year’s Day, the president did not get everything he wanted in his quest to "protect the middle class.” His sacrifice of raising the tax rate for those who make more than $400,000 a year, and couples who make more than $450,000 a year from $200,000 and $250,000 is a small one for the ability to hand responsibility of the crisis to the Republican-controlled House as time ran out. And the vote reflected that pressure.
What we now face is across-the-board spending cuts in two months and the risk of defaulting on our debt obligations for the first time ever unless Congress increases the borrowing cap — which, as you might remember, was a discussion in the summer of 2011 that resulted in the nation’s credit rating being downgraded. So as we move from crisis to crisis, we face more strife and, while the stock market responded with glee Wednesday at the fiscal cliff deal the night before, there is still not the groundwork for economic recovery while our debt is mounting. Interests rate are promised to be kept low through 2014, which will aid in limiting the rate of our debt from going even higher, but there is an impact to that policy. While it is good for borrowers, it is bad for money holders, particularly the elderly who depend on such interest income for their survival. Do we really want to continue to push that demographic into riskier investments such as the stock market or even annuities, especially when equities are so often held hostage to dysfunction in the nation’s capitol these days?
The solution, it seems, is one with which every person in the United States must contend daily — living within our means. Nothing should be off the table. Defense spending, entitlements, certain tax credits and personnel are all places in which we might find some savings. We have arrived at this point after about a decade of funding two wars, a bank and auto industry bailout, a stimulus program and mass changes to our health care system that is just now coming into place with new ways to tap the American public of its financial resources. Just as too much credit card debt wreaks havoc on one’s credit rating and ability to become economically solvent, this debt we as a nation have accrued is not only burdening us now, but will surely prove to be shackles for our future generations — unless, of course, our representatives of both parties begin to take this issue on with the gravitas it deserves.
Jon Mays is the editor in chief of the Daily Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Jon on Twitter @jonmays.