David B. Grinberg is an independent political-media analyst with prior work experience in the White House, Congress, federal agencies, political polling firms, and the news media - including:
* Government spokesman at U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
* Political appointee in Clinton-Gore Administration (OMB, Presidential Personnel).
* Staff, Office of the Majority Leader, former Congressman Richard Gephardt.
* Staff, national Democratic pollsters/strategists Stanley Greenberg and Celinda Lake.
* Journalist, reporter at BNA, Inc. (now "Bloomberg BNA) and "U. Magazine" (Colleges.com).
All views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only and are not official statements or policy positions of his employer.
Tick, tick, tick...tick, tick, tick...
The terrifying ticking sound you hear is that of a fiscal time bomb waiting to explode.
Every day, every hour, every minute between now and March 1, America inches closer to the edge of the so-called Fiscal Cliff. That's political parlance for what's otherwise know in Washington as the dreaded sequester.
In short, sequestration will suck the wind out of a barely recovering economy still struggling to set sail. Nevertheless, Congress appears ready and willing to light the fuse detonating a massive $85 billion dollars in draconian across-the-board budget cuts affecting every federal government agency from the Postal Service to the Pentagon.
Failure of Failsafe Mechanism
The Fiscal Cliff was supposed to be a failsafe mechanism to forge bipartisan consensus on contentious issues of taxes and spending.
In theory, the threat economic catastrophe would force Republicans and Democrats to adequately address persistent annual budget deficits and a badly ballooning national debt through bipartisan compromise. Yes, the kind we don't see every day.
But the term "compromise" has become a dirty word in Washington, where today's petty politics continue to take precedence over rational governing - to the detriment of the American people, the U.S. economy and global markets.
Rather than coming together for the good of the American people, Congress has abdicated responsibility and accountability. Meanwhile, the fragile U.S. economy hangs in the balance as a deeply divided Congress prefers to antagonize than compromise.
Playing the Blame Game
So who's to blame for this precarious predicament? We all are. Just take a look in the mirror.
Why? Because voters continue to naively elect and reelect members of Congress whose political self-interests supersede the interests of the people whom they purport to represent.
The political environment in Washington has become so toxic that our cowardly Congress chose to skip town for a prolonged vacation over a long President's Day weekend, and beyond.
Therefore, the American taxpayer will be left to suffer while members of Congress point fingers at each other by playing the beloved Washington blame game to score petty political points - rather than doing its job to avert the economic calamity the Fiscal Cliff will likely cause.
The irony here is that sequestration only affects discretionary spending by government, a very small slice of the overall budget pie. To truly get America's fiscal house in order, Congress and the president know they need to adequately address entitlement reform - that is, the future solvency of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Sequestration obscures fiscal reality because it's the political equivalent of putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound gushing blood. Going over the Fiscal Cliff will won't just hurt federal agencies and employees. The economic pain will be felt by nearly all Americans from coast-to-coast and border-to-border.
At the micro level, for example, expect:
- Longer waits at airport check-in lines and less security to protect you.
- Fewer meat and poultry inspections before staple food items reach your dinner table.
- Major military reductions harming America's national security, hurting the readiness of our armed forces, and leaving us more vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
- Not to mention less funding for vital education and safety-net programs to assist lower-income Americans.
On the macro-level expect:
- Financial markets here and overseas to deteriorate due to economic uncertainty.
- The unemployment rate to increase and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to drop.
- Higher prices for food, gas and electricity due to inflationary pressures.
- Fewer overall government services, most of which people take for granted anyway.
This is about far more than furloughs for federal workers. When public sector employees don't get paid they spend less money. This hurts consumer confidence and drives up costs for scores of small businesses, potentially resulting in private sector layoffs as well as an abrupt halt to hiring.
Pathetic Politicians in Washington
The bottom line is that going over the Fiscal Cliff will sucker punch our economy in the gut, perhaps resulting in renewed recession. This is serious business, but don't tell that to our pathetic politicians in Washington who are supposed to be doing the people's business.
Some Republicans, for instance, view sequestration as a prime opportunity to shrink the size of government they so nonchalantly castigate. Some Democrats see it as a chance to implement historic cuts to vital military programs and major defense contracts. This is economic sacrifice on the alter of political ideology.
So who gets hurt? Not the rich or super rich, but tens of millions of poor and middle-income Americans. Washington is once again singing the same old political tune of yesteryear: the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, while the middle class shrinks and falls further behind.
Meanwhile, the lion's share of the U.S. budget will go unscathed, driving further increases in the budget deficit, national debt, health care costs, and interest rates - all of which were meant to be helped, not hurt, by just the mere threat of going off the Fiscal Cliff.
In essence, our national politicians have put a gun to the economy's proverbial head and stand ready to pull the trigger. This is nothing short of Washington gone wild!
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