Bob Franken: Sappy New Year
We’re running out of time to arrange our New Year’s parties. But how can we, with all the uncertainty about the “fiscal cliff? Obviously, that’s the preoccupation of each and every one of us, right? So should we plan a joyous celebration to welcome 2013, or will we be moping because our politicians once again really blew it?
If we pay attention to much of the posturing, it sometimes can seem like a deal is out of reach. Everyone is taking shots. Words like “stalemate” fill the airwaves and cable waves. President Barack Obama, who has been stung before by complaints that he’s squishy, is playing Mr. Hardnose now that he won the election. Wherever he can, he’s trying to stick it to the Republicans. At every opportunity, he is informing the world that this time, he will insist on higher tax rates for the wealthy. That, of course, is utter sacrilege for the GOP, which depends on handouts from the rich for its very existence.
House Speaker John Boehner and company are so flummoxed, they are putting forward proposals that at least pretend to include so-called revenue raisers. Granted, they are based on undefined reforms in deductions, but at least they are changing their tune by even talking about adding money to the budget.
The president doesn’t seem to be budging. Why would he? The polls are on his side. So all us pundits have now turned to discussing what just might happen when we hurtle off the cliff Jan. 1. Will anyone feel immediate pain? Certainly not. Except maybe investors, for a day or so. Will everyone be embarrassed by those we elected? Absolutely. They will have yet again demeaned the United States of America. That’s the noise in our echo chamber.
There’s one good thing about being a commentator: No one remembers what we say. Not only is it job security, it means we don’t have to be very brave to swim against the flow. That’s what I will be doing here, timidly going where few have gone before.
I say you can make those party plans. Assume that the political parties will come up with a deal. It may be nothing more than a sham agreement, but they will be able to announce some sort of “hard-fought compromise after intense bargaining.” It probably won’t happen until moments before the deadline on the 31st, because of their addiction to 11th-hour melodrama. It might even come after midnight, if they use that old stop-the-clock routine, and we won’t officially know whether to sing “Auld Lang Syne” or Auld Lang Whine, but 2013 will begin with a deal.
All the negative bluster is really positive. While the two sides bluster out front, the president and the speaker meet behind closed doors. The only way the White House has any chance of placating restive Democrats dug in on entitlements is to give the public appearance of hanging tough. Same for the Republicans teeming with those who would just as soon shred all social programs and get rid of all taxes. We are already seeing their rigidity bend a little as a few GOP senators indicate that they might not fall on their swords over taxes.
It’s still early in the game. Only at the last second can they all make concessions and have any credibility when the time comes to tell their partisans that they squeezed out everything possible. What we will then hear is public screams of outrage from the immoderates on both sides, the same members of Congress who will privately agree to vote yes if their support is needed for passage and if they get something in return. We will have once more avoided disaster, and then we’ll move on to the next crisis.
As for New Year’s, maybe the politicians could make a resolution to do things differently. They’d break it immediately.
Bob Franken is a former CNN correspondent. He can be contacted by email at email@example.com.