Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Fiscal Cliff Averted... New Cliff Scheduled

We enter 2013 with legislative insanity in the wings. At 2:00 a.m., the Senate passed a fiscal cliff deal. This deal, like every other large, omnibus bill passed by Congress, is a hodgepodge of ideas, Senate vote-winning handouts and overall politicking that makes a very large, very awkward, deal. Let's look at some of the signature things that CNN claims the bill solves:
1. The AMT fix is now a permanent, non-yearly fix. This should have been solved years ago in stand-alone legislation since everyone always agreed to it. Letting it fester is a sign of the problems in our legislative system: Even things everyone agrees on are simply used as bargaining chips in otherwise bad bills to force concessions from the other side, sort of the opposite of a poison pill. This is good that it was fixed; it is bad it had to be fixed this way.

2. The sequester, one of the biggest issues facing the fiscal cliff, is solved by pretending it doesn't exist for another two months. This is about as mature as putting your finger an inch in front of someone's face and saying "I'm not touching you."

3. The Doc Fix is put out, though at the moment, it looks like it is meant solely to solve the fix for this year, as opposed to for every year. In addition, the money will not come from where it was originally supposed to come from (the Affordable Care Act), but will come from some other money pot, so that we can have the illusion that the money is not really being spent for the Affordable Care Act.

4. CNN states: "Child care, tuition and research and development tax credits would be renewed." That's something that could have passed on its own and should have done so.

5. "A spike in milk prices will be avoided," because again, this bill rolled in an agriculture bill that should really have had to stand on its own.
This isn't to say the bill is bad; it may very well be. It is to say that the way we do things in Washington is ridiculous. Instead of grand, sweeping gestures, we need small, discrete actions that can win over a clear majority. Look, Congress, we need to talk.

2:00 a.m. on New Year's Day isn't the best time to make these sorts of life-altering decisions. Normally, we expect these grand outbursts to come from the House, to where the Senate, the older, wiser sibling, lets the ideas cool for a bit. But, seeing as the Senate is so dysfunctional that it can't even pass a budget, I can see why things might have been reversed. What we should do is sit down, slow down, and take apart large bills like this and let as many of the distinct parts as possible stand on their own.

Good thing we sort of resolved the fiscal cliff. Because, see, we've scheduled a new cliff in two months, so we wouldn't want to be all cliffed out.

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