Christmas 2012 and the Fiscal Cliff

As both rapidly approach, which do we pay attention to? Photo: Capitol Hill Christmas / Asociated Press

COLORADO SPRINGS, December 23, 2012 — Christmas is almost here. The fiscal cliff follows closely on its heels. What does that mean, and which event should we be paying attention to?

I’m going to suggest that Christmas is far more significant.

Calendar-based deadlines are almost always artificial. Just as the world did not end on December 21st, so also the world will not end on January 2nd if the automatic sequester kicks in.

We could argue that the world as we know it went terminal on November 6, but that’s another story altogether.

What happens on January 2?

The Bush-era tax cuts expire and everyone goes back to the tax rates of the late 1990s. This is a tax increase on all of us, no question. One can argue that this is just what Obama wants: it is clear that he believes Americans can stand to be taxed more for purposes of income redistribution, which he calls “fairness.”

So while he made the gesture of not advocating taxing the “middle class” triggering the fiscal cliff is really more like the policy he wants.

Why can we infer this? Because after the election, his demands increased. He demanded more from Congress and never made any concession at all. There has been a lot of posturing, but the White House has made no – none, zero, zilch – concessions.

The Senate under Harry Reid has done the same thing. He has refused to even consider anything the House has proposed. Reid adjourned the Senate and Obama is off on his vacation to Hawaii. You can’t negotiate when the other side goes home.

Boehner has thus been under the gun to unilaterally come up with a deal. He tried two plans, both of which failed in the House. At this point he’s saying he’s done all he can. While no big fan of Boehner, I have to agree that he has. His Plan B went so far that his own party could not support it. How much further could he have gone? In order to have succeeded, a plan would have had to move further in the opposite direction, toward fiscal responsibility.

The House is the people’s branch of the federal government. This is where our representatives are charged with coming up with a budget. The Senate was originally supposed to represent the interests of the States, but the 17th Amendment gutted that idea and today the senate is nothing but a roadblock, more beholden to party than to either the States or the People.

In essence, then, the Democrats have posed the Republican House a fine dilemma: violate your principles and raise taxes or we’ll make it look like you’re responsible for the coming fiscal disaster.

What Boehner has replied, whether he meant to or not, is I tried and I can’t make it work. The result is up to you. And since, as I’ve argued above, this is really the desired outcome in the first place, the Democrats will be happy to take the plunge off the cliff.

Will this be the end of the world that we missed on the 21st? No.

Markets, businesses and individuals have already factored in the likely outcome and have taken what actions they can to mitigate it. Congress and the president can still pass laws in January that they make retroactive to 1 January if they choose. 

This cliff-diving might even be a very good thing.

The problem with divided government as a strategy for limiting government is that the two parties have evolved ways of overcoming it. Libertarians call it the welfare-warfare state. Democrats spent on welfare and Republicans on warfare. Once upon a time, Democrats spent on both welfare and warfare and the Republicans preached limited government; this leaves us lamenting for the good old days.

With the automatic spending cuts, both sides cut. Yes, defense takes it harder, but budgets everywhere are bloated. Whole programs won’t go away and deficits will continue until infinity or bankruptcy, whichever comes first. Politicians will be able to throw up their collective hands and deny responsibility.

That’s why I say we are better served paying attention to the holidays.  Governments come and go and so do taxes and spending, but our salvation is not from government, it is from God.

What happens on December 25?

This week we celebrate the coming of the Savior, born to humble parents in very humble surroundings and attended only by shepherds.

Christians have celebrated this birth for two millennia. Furthermore, our salvation does not come to us through government any more than it comes from government. Our Founders knew that. The tumultuous events of 17th century England proved it to them: whether the government is headed by a hereditary King Charles or Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell or invited monarchs William and Mary.

It is out of these experiences that we inherited the philosophy of limited government; the idea that government’s only real role in our lives is to preserve civilized order and that We the People are in charge of it.

What we do with our lives, our liberty and our property is up to us. If we are Christian, we follow the teachings of Him whose birth we celebrate this month. If we are virtuous, it is because we do good things, not because government does good things in our name. Government is force: it can only take from some to give to others.

This Christmas season, think not only about the fact that Jesus was born but also about who He was born to save.

Forget the fiscal cliff.


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Al Maurer

Al Maurer is a political scientist and founder of The Voice of Liberty. He writes on topics of limited government and individual rights.

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