Fiscal Cliff 2013: We Will Fall Off, As Both Parties Run Out of Options and Time

ByTori Elliott

It seemed the election had barely been decided when a new buzzword began to dominate the airwaves: the “fiscal cliff.” The elation (or disappointment) of election night seemed to give way into an urgent panic as many realized that the U.S. was still facing the same gridlocked government — a Republican controlled House and a Democratic Senate and White House — whose intransigence over how to shrink the federal deficit during the summer of 2011 led Standard & Poor's to downgrade the United States’ credit rating from AAA (the highest) to AA. In its own convulsion of uncertainty, the stock market took a 2% hit and the Dow Jones dropped over 300 points on November 7. 

The term “fiscal cliff,” coined by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, refers to a simultaneous increase in taxes, coupled with sharp cuts in all discretionary spending, known as “sequestration,” stipulated by the Budget Control Act of 2011. Essentially, this means that the Bush-era tax cuts will expire, leading to a 2% payroll tax increase (a return

While the fiscal cliff would save the U.S. $1.2 trillion over ten years, whatever money would be saved on the deficit would be paid for in jobs and economic growth. They would likely impact the economic recovery, costing an estimated 3.4 million jobs and leaving the average American with less disposable income.  

Though negotiations on the fiscal cliff stalled during the election and Congressional recess as the country waited to see if the balance of power, both in the White House and Congress, would shift dramatically towards one party or the other, the “fiscal cliff” is the climax of a nearly four-year long battle between the left and right about the most effective ways to reduce the deficit. Republicans favor cutting spending, especially on entitlement programs, while Democrats are eager to see a return to the higher tax rates of the Clinton years. The two parties’ inability to reach a compromise last year led to the creation of Budget Control Act of 2011, which allowed the Government to do what it does best — kick the can down the road. The Budget Control Act is, in effect, an ultimatum; it gives both parties what they want at the same time (higher tax rates and deep spending cuts) but at the cost of the economic health of the country, thereby forcing the hands of all parties involved to come to a more reasonable compromise. 

Three days after the presidential election, no doubt humbled by Republican Mitt Romney’s defeat, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced that the GOP would be willing to strike a compromise in fiscal cliff negotiations. That same day, President Obama gave a speech in which he acknowledged that, though he was not “wedded” to every aspect of his budgetary agenda, his re-election signaled that “most Americans agree with [his] approach.” So far, the political posturing that has preceded the negotiations has been less than encouraging, with each

At this point, the White House and Congress are left with three options: yet again put the