by Ginger Costen
Washington's fiscal cliff is kind of like my personal fiscal cliff, only much bigger
My writing ritual often starts with thoughtful reflection as I mull over the current events happening in our small community, state, country or even our planet. So today was no different when I awoke thinking, “What am I going to write about today?”
Global Warming? “No, Al Gore and the scientific brains have that covered,” I answered.
Next week is the beginning of a New Year so how about a few lighthearted yet profound New Year’s resolutions? “Naaa, been there; wrote that,” I quickly added.
This Mayan doomsday calendar thing is still timely; maybe a thought or two about the fact we’re all still here and the planet is rotating just as it has been for the past trillion or so years? “Hmmm, I don’t want to push our luck so I’ll leave that alone for now,” I responded.
Realizing I was fully engaged in a conversation with myself, I decided it was time to get out of bed and begin writing before my family developed a plan for my psychiatric evaluation.
Then I turned on the light and it hit me like the federal debt. “The Fiscal Cliff,” I yelled. “I have my own Fiscal Cliff right here in our own little house.” Never quite sure where my thought process is headed on the imaginary track that runs through my brain, my husband mumbled something about needing a cup of coffee as he shook his head and walked out towards the kitchen.
“Mike, I’ve got the perfect analogy for a column about the pending Fiscal Cliff,” I eagerly tried to explain. But just like the discussions that are currently going on in Washington, the words fell on deaf ears.
So here’s my analogy…
The first of December one of our two FtL (that’s the new acronym for a child that is grown, schooled and should be on their own but is suffering from the Failure to Launch syndrome) daughters moved into her own apartment. Along with this thirty-something offspring of mine went the cutest three year-old grandson on the planet. Since he’d been here for most of those three years, a considerable amount of space became available in our bedroom when all of his toys no longer needed storing in that otherwise empty area.
Looking through thrift and consignment stores for the furniture needs in the now hatched daughter’s apartment, I noticed a most inviting, large overstuffed chair. It reminded me of the story of The Three Bears, when Goldilocks sat down in Momma Bear’s chair and it felt just right. It was soft, yet comfortable with giant armrests made for cuddling grand children. It had solid construction and was in nearly flawless condition.
So as the holidays continued, I often thought of how great that chair would look in that huge space that once held all of those toys. “I could cuddle up with a good book and read for hours in that chair or take a nap or sit and write on my laptop or – the possibilities are endless” I kept telling myself. Completely convinced that the chair would be the best idea I’d ever had, I suddenly jumped at the chance to go back to the store. That was two days ago and now the Costens have a Fiscal Cliff sitting in our bedroom.
Buying the chair seemed like the right thing to do at the moment. I could visualize the benefits and knew they far outweighed any concerns my husband may have had about getting the chair from the store to the house or into the doorway of our bedroom. The positives would overcome the negatives.
Kind of reminds me of the “we need to help the economy so let’s cut taxes and worry about it later” thought process that’s been going on for a while in Washington D.C.
But it’s now 48 hours later and I have a chair that made it home and through two doorways but doesn’t fit in any corner of our bedroom. In fact, it doesn’t fit anywhere in our entire house. In my mind the chair would fit, but that’s the only place.
Did our elected brains measure these tax cuts and weigh them against the pros and cons before they jumped at the chance to go back to the store to balance the budget? So in 2001/2003 when the Republicans decided to cut income, estate and investment taxes while expanding tax credits no one cautioned them about the need to carefully measure what this will do in the future?
How about the Democrats idea for the 2009 Stimulus that expanded the Earned Income Tax and the American Opportunity Tax credits?
So we have five tax measures expiring on New Year’s eve: the 2001/2003 Bush tax cuts costing $203 billion if extended; the 2009 stimulus costing $10 billion; Payroll tax holiday costing $115 billion; an Alternative Minimum Tax intended as a baseline tax for high earners that would hit a lot of middle-class taxpayers if not modified costing $114 billion; and corporate tax breaks that are regularly extended costing $109 billion.
Against this we have four types of spending cuts that will also go into effect at the same time: the Budget Control Act of 2011 (or debt ceiling compromise) amounts to about $110 billion; budget caps reducing discretionary spending is $78 billion; reversals of temporary cuts that Congress has passed for the past 15 years and President Clinton signed as a deficit reduction measure in 1997 will cut an additional $14 billion; and cutting the unemployment extensions would cut $39 billion.
Kind of boggles the mind doesn’t it? Well it all boils down to a collision between deficit reduction and stimulus expansion. In other words, we got the chair through the door but now we have nowhere to put it. I think I’ll go down to Webster First Federal Credit Union and ask for a home improvement loan so I can raise my debt ceiling and build a bigger house. Sounds like I should be in Washington D.C.