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Posted at 11:59 AM ET, 01/02/2013

The ‘fiscal cliff’ and the ‘MAD’ principle

Well, it turns out the that “fiscal cliff” achieved its purpose.  In any successful negotiation between intractable enemies, there must be some shared fate to be avoided or achieved.  In the Cold War, Russia and the United States were able to achieve occasional compromise around the shared objective of avoiding the mutually assured destruction of a nuclear war.  This “MAD” principle was at play in the recent negotiations over the fiscal cliff: Neither side wanted the outcome, or the blame for it, that failure would have brought: plunging markets and acute voter disgust. Hovering over all of the discussions was the ultimate deal motivator: fear of not getting one. In this case, Congress realized that failing to act would show the country it had lost any ability to protect it.

As for the substance of the deal, it seems to me that Republicans fared well. They got the vast majority of their tax cuts made permanent and get now to bray fully about spending without the distraction of the president hectoring them about tax fairness. President Obama is called the loser on the substance of the deal, caving on his tax threshold, but he is actually a winner, too, because he couldn't afford to have the oxygen cut off to the fledgling economic recovery.

The Post’s coverage over the past 48 hours of the denouement of the fiscal drama was riveting. The deal passes the Senate, but Eric Cantor and the tea party members shout "no deal." But, then, the argument that the House must vote prevails, the bill passes, crisis averted, at least until it all starts again around the debt ceiling. The two adversaries, like fastball pitchers on the mound, are already digging in: Obama saying new revenue will need to be part of any spending cuts, and the Republicans saying, “We're done with taxes, let's sharpen our meat axes and go after entitlements. The backstop for all of this is, of course, a possible default on the national debt or further downgrading of the nation's credit. Will that serve as the MAD safety net on the next go-round and help us avoid insanity one more time?

By  |  11:59 AM ET, 01/02/2013

 
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