ALPERN AT LARGE - There’s spin and then there’s reality…and it’s often very difficult to distinguish between the two. There’s political showmanship, and then there are secret agendas…and it’s often very difficult to distinguish between the two.
Unfortunately, there’s the expedient thing to do, and the right thing to do…and it’s usually pretty easy to distinguish between the two, despite our leaders’ tendency to go for the expediency and shy away from doing what’s right.
The “Fiscal Cliff” in Washington, a term coined by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, has been scaring everyone on Wall Street (and now Main Street) for the last 1-2 years, and Mr. Bernanke is still screaming like Chicken Little that our sky is about to fall on us (LINK: ).
Cliff-watchers (and many economists) all seem to agree that, come January 1st, 2013, unless any deal can be reached between the two branches of Congress and the President, taxes will go up abruptly, government programs will also be cut abruptly, and the economy will go into a recession just as abruptly.
Kind of makes you hope that the conspiracy believers who contend that the end of the Mayan calendar (December 21, 2012) means the end of the world are right, because then there’s no reason to worry—let’s party!
But if we do wake up the following morning, and it’s still the same world of miserable traffic, holiday shopping snarls, an overload of watching the Kardashians and other reality clowns, and a miserably-underperforming Laker team here in LA, then the “fiscal cliff” has to be confronted.
“Confronted”…now that’s a term our nation’s leaders don’t seem to understand, perhaps because our nation doesn’t seem to vote in leaders who want to confront the much bigger “fiscal cliff” that we’re marching towards like a pack of lemmings—a growing deficit, debt and spending problem (whether it’s Medicare/Medicaid, defense spending, corporate welfare or entitlement programs) that will trap us and our children for the next century.
Which is why the “fiscal cliff” we’re facing come New Year’s Day has potential upside to both political sides of the aisle:
For the Republicans, they can blame President Obama and the eeeeeevil Democrats who don’t have the courage to cut entitlement spending and claim helplessness, while they shirk a clearly-outdated Grover Norquist pledge of “No New Taxes Ever”.
For the Democrats, they can blame John Boehner, Grover Norquist, the Tea Party, Mitch McConnell, and the eeeeeevil GOP for being the puppets of the filthy rich on Wall Street and showing no love for Main Street, while they shirk their pledge to protect Social Security and Medicare for current and future generations.
Certainly the GOP and the Democrats can come together on one issue that unites most Americans: the “1%” is a very different, rarified breed than the “2%”. The millionaires and megamillionaires in our country are very different than those making $200-250,000, particularly in states such as California and New York.
Warren Buffett and George Soros have recommended higher estate taxes, income taxes and a whole lot of other taxes on the wealthy.
So why wouldn’t the GOP just love to raises taxes on Mr. Buffett, Mr. Soros and the Hollywood elite to boot?
Unfortunately…again…the “2%” is not the same as the “1%”, and while giving the out-of-touch “1%” a good zetz seems fun it’s not so fun to nail that “2%” comprised of small businesses, professionals and others who’ve worked and still work 60-80 hour work weeks and accumulate enormous amounts of debts to get to where they are today.
So while the American public might want to throw the “1%” and “2%” into the same category and “nail them all”, while doing nothing to do what’s necessary to balance our Medicare/Social Security budget and preserve it for future generations, this same American public might want to remember a few key bullet points, as well as “confront” itself:
1) There’s not that much money to be had by increasing taxes on the rich—only about 8 days of government spending will be had by increasing taxes on the upper 2% of taxpayers.
2) Our BIG problem is the federal deficit—up to $1-1.5 trillion a year now, so all cards need to be put on the table to prevent our children and grandchildren from being destroyed and the American dollar from being relegated to insignificance.
3) Keeping health care costs down (whether it’s Medicare, Medicaid or commercial insurance) is the biggest obstacle to balancing our budget, and all health care expenses—including paying doctors less needs to be considered, although incentivizing doctors towards more cost-effective care might be the best approach. (I’m a doctor, by the way)
It’s reasonable conjecture that the GOP will very likely gain political points if we go over the “fiscal cliff” if President Obama and the Democrats can be blamed for not cutting spending, and it’s reasonable conjecture that the Democrats will gain political points if we go over the “fiscal cliff” if House Speaker Boehner and the GOP is blamed for raising taxes on everyone.
It’s also reasonable conjecture that the GOP knows damn well that we ALL have to pay more taxes, and perhaps it’ll be good to have middle class know what it’s like to pay more income taxes, and it’s also reasonable conjecture that the Democrats know damn well that we ALL have to learn belt-tightening and make tough decisions by cutting unsustainable spending, so perhaps both sides secretly and privately want this fiscal cliff…and to hell with Wall Street’s short-term unhappiness.
But what cannot be denied as mere conjecture is:
1) President Obama’s two children (and my own two children) shouldn’t have to pay for OUR debts.
2) Paying more taxes is OK if the taxes aren’t misspent.
3) The main reason we don’t have enough for the truly needy is because too many Americans are investing their energies figuring out ways for other people to pay for their wants and needs, which means we must distinguish between those who are truly needy, and those who unrealistically claim they’re truly needy.
(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at Alpern@MarVista.org . He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)