Please solve the Fiscal Cliff, but please don’t try for any “Grand Bargain.” Frankly, the fact that you can even suggest with a straight face that this is the time for a total rewrite of not just the tax code, but just about every major social program on which Americans rely, is a good indicator that you have absolutely no business trying to make decisions like this at the moment. Like texting while drunk or Tweeting while in a rage, I know this seems like a really good idea. Worse, all your buddies in the media keep egging you on, telling you to “think big” and “show leadership.” Do not listen to them. Remember when your former best friend told you that drunk text to you coworkers was “outrageous man, do it!” or when your Tweeps kept saying “yeah, you totally tell it like it is!” And then when you came back later you realized you had totally embarrassed yourself? The media is not your friend here.
Just solve the fiscal cliff problem then go home for Xmas break. Get rested, maybe even laugh a little at yourself for all the ridiculous and crazy insults you shouted about the people you need to negotiate with, then come back in January ready to do the real work.
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First, let me point out that your last brilliant idea for a Grand Bargain that you came up with when you frantically negotiated under pressure like this was to create a doomsday device of sequestration and sudden tax increases — which is why we have the current crisis. This is not exactly a good track record.
In any event, dealing with the current fiscal cliff crisis will be challenging enough, since it involves some actual negotiating over budget priorities and tax increases. Why on Earth would anyone think you in Congress can go from “totally dysfunctional” to able to completely rewrite the tax code and every single major spending program? This should be a clue that the Very Serious People who keep telling you to totally go for it, ’cause if you don’t shoot for a Grand Bargain you’re a total wuss, are not really your friends no matter how popular they make you feel right now. This is not an episode of “Biggest Looser,” where having a bunch of obnoxious bullies shout at you for the amusement of the crowds will magically cause you to shed several trillion dollars of debt by the season finale this December. This is real life, and as you all keep discovering the hard way, real life will bite you on the ass regardless of how much you believe in your fantasy world or how loudly you shout reality can’t be right.
You and the Very Serious People pushing you to go for a Grand Bargain rather than just solve the current crisis and go home keep repeating this myth that “we all know what to do” and that somehow knowing this makes it easy if only everyone would “grow up” and “stop partisan bickering.” Let me clue you into some reality. Comprehensive reform is hard. Yes, we should be trying to work together on major solutions to fiscal problems. We need to develop a tax code that is once again progressive in nature and where the actual rate paid is in line with the apparent rate (by which I mean that individuals who by their income should pay one rate in reality pay a much lower rate due to operation of the code). I am all for ditching bizarre rituals like patching the Alternative Minimum Tax every year and replacing it with something we will actually pay.
But a lame duck session with barely a month of actual work time is NOT the time to attempt such a major overhaul.
From experience, you know who will end up writing the actual legislation in such a “Grand Bargain.” Members are not going to have time to learn even a fraction of what they need to know to make comprehensive overhauls of every major revenue and social program. So lobbyists and ideologues who have been waiting for this opportunity will step into the gap. They will provide language that members, desperate for time and without opportunity to consider how all this stuff will work together, will gratefully accept as a starting point and then hand off final compromise tweaks to a handful of hassled staffers who may not even have been in the room when you negotiated the language.
Members will not have time to do anything detailed or considered. Members beyond the small group involved in the drafting will not even have time to read the bill, which will be thousand of pages and will be presented to them with no time to read and told they must vote yes NOW! It will be filled with ill-considered compromise language with horrible unforeseen consequences. As well as a raft of Christmas ornaments and “Easter eggs” of cheat codes.
But the rodeo clowns of our media masquerading as “statesmen” and “experts” insist on setting up for failure with talk of a “Grand Bargain,” aided and abetted by celebrity hounds posing as political leaders strutting in front of a 24-hour media working this latest issue in a frenzy. Pundits who think complex problems have simple solutions and that “we know what to do, we just need to do it” who have no actual idea how this stuff works or what impact it has. I may know someone who needs a liver transplant, but that doesn’t make doing a liver transplant easy, or something you should try to accomplish on a speed clock surrounded by hecklers and reality TV hosts posing as reporters and commentators.
Don’t try for a Grand Bargain. The best thing that will happen is you will fail to reach one, which will then be one more “failure.” But it would be even worse if you succeeded in actually drafting and passing something, given what it would look like.
Instead of a Grand Bargain, try for “competence” or at least “less dysfunctional.” If you can manage that by the end of the year, we can move on to other projects like “overhaul the tax code” and “revamp social safety net programs” (to make them more effective, not just to cut funding for the poor).
Yr hmbl abdn’t blogger
Stay tuned . . . .