The battle to avoid going over the “Fiscal Cliff” is in full bloom. The posturing,” line in the sand drawing’, and pontificating are out there for all to see. The bottom line of this battle is ideological. On the one hand there is a belief that a strong and secure middle class is the key to economic growth and stability. This group feels that in order to create that growth, security and stability, there needs to be a balanced approach to deficit reduction consisting of revenue increases and spending decreases. It is further believed that increasing taxes on the middle class would be counter productive, and that increasing taxes on the very wealthy, the top 2%, who have experienced unprecedented increases in their net wealth during the past 4 years, would be both equatable and productive. Finally, this group feels that any adjustments to the entitlement programs should avoid placing financial pressure on the existing recipients. On the other hand, there are those who continue to plead the case of “trickle down” economics in which taxing the wealthy, the so called “job creatures” would be counter productive and depress economic growth. Further, they call for major cuts in spending, particularly in social safety net programs and a restructuring of the entitlements. This group represents the 2% and the corporate community.
However, the fact is that the majority of Americans have made there preferences on this issue very clear. They have spoken their will both at the voting booth and in recent opinion polls. So why aren’t the legislatures, who are supposed to represent the wishes of the people, creating and passing the proposals that speak to the will of the people? Is our system of representative government working? We always hear that those who do not represent the will of the people will pay the price in the next election. But on a practical level we know that the power and security of incumbency have enabled Senators and Congressman to represent the will of the few and still remain in office. Are the decisions of those who we send to Washington to represent our interests more impacted by the lobbyists on K street and the likes of Grover Norquist? Has the power of special interests and wealth impacted so severely on our system that it has rendered it non responsive?
We have a system of government that is not only supposed to be responsive to its citizens, but also a structure of “checks and balances” that is in place to prevent any of the three branches of government from becoming dominant. It seems however, that we have a situation in which the Congress is trying to check the Executive Branch from creating an economic solution that has been selected by the people both at the polls and opinion polls. Has our system become too bogged down to work in the way the framers of the Constitution envisioned it? Can a legislative branch, so polarized and responsible to special interests, work with an Executive Branch that is attempting to fulfill the promises on which it was elected?
We often hear that “politics is the art of compromise”. It may be that what we are seeing is what I noted in the first paragraph, posturing etc. It may be that while the process isn’t pretty, the ultimate product will be something we can all applaud. But what if, in fact, we go over the “cliff” and there is no compromise and no solution? While we will all pay a severe economic price, I believe at least equally important, we will really have to begin to ask some serious questions about why our system didn’t work?