How Congress has already failed on the fiscal cliff

December 31, 2012

The fiscal cliff cometh. And, whether or not the House and Senate -- with an assist from the White House -- figure out some sort of stopgap(ish) way to avert going over the edge, one lesson is already crystal clear: Congress has failed.


Don't believe us? Consider the following:

* Both sides put off any discussion of addressing the country's looming financial crisis until after the 2012 election, which was cast as the peoples' chance to let their voices be heard as to what direction they wanted their politicians to head. President Obama won with 332 electoral votes, Democrats surprisingly kept the Senate and not so surprisingly picked up a handful of seats in the House. And yet, here we are.

* Given that the country is headed over the cliff in a day or so -- triggering a series of automatic cuts across the government -- the logistical and political hurdles to any sort of grand bargain to address the country's long-term debt and spending issues are insurmountably high. That means that any deal will be decidedly narrow in nature in order to pass it through the political and legislative gantlet that is a narrowly Democratic-controlled Senate and a Republican-controlled House. And if Congress can't even find common ground on a small-bore deal, what does that say about its chances of cutting a big deal down the line?

* We've been here before. This will be the second time in less than 18 months that Congress -- and specifically House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) -- tried to find a way to solve the "big" problem of the country's growing debt burden. And even if a deal is made, it will be the second time (the debt ceiling was the first) that will ultimately be defined not by whether a deal is made or even what the deal looks like but rather by the legislative ugliness -- there is no kinder word -- that led to the "compromise."

Seen through that lens, what happens between now and when the clock strikes midnight tonight won't really matter all that much. The die is cast. For the average person, Congress's using every second -- literally -- of its allotted time (and maybe more than its allotted time) to find a deal will be chalked up as another in a series of failures by Washington.

And if the fallout for Congress is anything like what we saw in the wake of the debt-ceiling debacle, you can expect what has already been a dismal run in terms of the institution's political popularity to get even worse.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (D) hit it on the head Sunday when he took to the Senate floor to lambaste his colleagues for their failure to act. "It is absolutely inexcusable that all of us find ourselves in this place at this time ... with no plan and no apparent hope," said Manchin.

No matter what happens in these final hours, Manchin's sentiment seems certain to mirror the American public's view of Congress and the fiscal cliff. Failure seems not to be an option but the only one.

Obama says tax cuts will get done -- sooner or later: During an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, Obama said he is "confident" that Congress will renew tax cuts for the middle class, whether in this Congress or when the new one begins in the coming weeks.

"One way or another, we’ll get through this,” Obama said. “Do I wish that things were more orderly in Washington and rational and people listened to the best arguments and compromised and operated in a more thoughtful and organized fashion? Absolutely.  But when you look at history, that’s been the exception rather than the norm.”

Obama also touched on a number of other issues during the appearance, including Benghazi, which he called a "huge problem." He also said gun control is "not something I will be putting off" and that he's skeptical of the NRA's proposal to put armed guards in schools.

Fixbits:

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) says Obama has an "addiction" to spending

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) says he wouldn't vote to confirm Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, as Obama defends Hagel.

A former economic adviser to Mitt Romney says taxes must be increased on the middle class in addition to the wealthy.

Dick Armey defends the $8 million severance package he got when he left FreedomWorks.

Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), who was recently arrested for DUI, will not fight the charges.

Must-reads:

"House speaker’s easygoing style proves a weakness during ‘fiscal cliff’ crisis" -- David A. Fahrenthold and Felicia Sonmez, Washington Post

"As ‘fiscal cliff’ looms, Republicans have no political incentive to make deal with Obama" -- Chris Cillizza, Washington Post

"Outgoing Congress proves to be unproductive to the end" -- Rosalind S. Helderman, Washington Post

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Sean Sullivan · December 30, 2012