The Holiday Season has descended upon us. The many mentions of “glad tidings , joy and good will” will begin to permeate the air. It would make one think that everybody is getting along right? Wrong! This fiscal cliff thing keeps looming over our heads. We just finished the longest election cycle in the history of mankind. We vanquished the Romney camp…to their chagrin. We got our guy re-elected, and what promises to be a rewarding second term…may get capsized by this fiscal cliff.
I will be honest with you. After the election I took a breather. I freed my mind of all things political. A few friends and me had gotten Obama elected by knocking on a few hundred doors in Virginia right? So all of our worries are over. I even tried to take in a movie. Naturally I gravitated toward “Lincoln”. It was deeply political. No matter how much I tried to entertain myself with “The Voice” and “X-Factor” and even suffer through “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” with my wife (full disclosure…I was the one who actually got her hooked on the show), I could not resist changing the channel to MSNBC, CNN or even FOX to see what was going on in real life. All of them are talking about this “fiscal cliff” that the economy is about to fall over. At the end of the year, if the executive and legislative branch does not agree to a budget….massive cuts to military and domestic programs begin to take place automatically. My question is…as innocently as I can express it…..why?
I will also be truthful and tell you that I had to do a little research about the fiscal cliff. Here is what I found
The Fiscal Cliff Explained
“Fiscal cliff” is the popular shorthand term used to describe the conundrum that the U.S. government will face at the end of 2012, when the terms of the Budget Control Act of 2011 are scheduled to go into effect.
Among the laws set to change at midnight on December 31, 2012, are the end of last year’s temporary payroll tax cuts (resulting in a 2% tax increase for workers), the end of certain tax breaks for businesses, shifts in the alternative minimum tax that would take a larger bite, the end of the tax cuts from 2001-2003, and the beginning of taxes related to President Obama’s health care law. At the same time, the spending cuts agreed upon as part of the debt ceiling deal of 2011 will begin to go into effect. According to Barron's, over 1,000 government programs - including the defense budget and Medicare are in line for "deep, automatic cuts."
In dealing with the fiscal cliff, U.S. lawmakers have a choice among three options, none of which are particularly attractive:
· They can let the current policy scheduled for the beginning of 2013 – which features a number of tax increases and spending cuts that are expected to weigh heavily on growth and possibly drive the economy back into a recession – go into effect. The plus side: the deficit, as a percentage of GDP, would be cut in half.
· They can cancel some or all of the scheduled tax increases and spending cuts, which would add to the deficit and increase the odds that the United States could face a crisis similar to that which is occurring in Europe. The flip side of this, of course, is that the United States' debt will continue to grow.
· They could take a middle course, opting for an approach that would address the budget issues to a limited extent, but that would have a more modest impact on growth.
Can a Compromise be Reached?
The oncoming fiscal cliff is a concern for investors since the highly partisan nature of the current political environment could make a compromise difficult to reach. This problem isn’t new, after all: lawmakers have had three years to address this issue, but Congress – mired in political gridlock – has largely put off the search for a solution rather than seeking to solve the problem directly. Republicans want to cut spending and avoid raising taxes, while Democrats are looking for a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. Although both parties want to avoid the fiscal cliff, compromise is seen as being difficult to achieve. There's a strong possibility that Congress won't act until the eleventh hour. Another potential obstacle is that the next Congress won't be sworn in until January 3, after the deadline.
The most likely outcome is another set of stop-gap measures that would delay a more permanent policy change until 2013 or later. Still, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that if Congress takes the middle ground – extending the Bush-era tax cuts but cancelling the automatic spending cuts – the result, in the short term, would be modest growth but no major economic hit.
Possible Effects of the Fiscal Cliff
If the current laws slated for 2013 go into effect, the impact on the economy could be dramatic. While the combination of higher taxes and spending cuts would reduce the deficit by an estimated $560 billion, the CBO estimates that the policies set to go into effect would cut gross domestic product (GDP) by four percentage points in 2013, sending the economy into a recession (i.e., negative growth). At the same time, it predicts unemployment would rise by almost a full percentage point, with a loss of about two million jobs. A Wall St. Journal article from May 16, 2012 estimates the following impact in dollar terms: “In all, according to an analysis by J.P. Morgan economist Michael Feroli, $280 billion would be pulled out of the economy by the sun setting of the Bush tax cuts; $125 million from the expiration of the Obama payroll-tax holiday; $40 million from the expiration of emergency unemployment benefits; and $98 billion from Budget Control Act spending cuts. In all, the tax increases and spending cuts make up about 3.5% of GDP, with the Bush tax cuts making up about half of that, according to the J.P. Morgan report.” Amid an already-fragile recovery and elevated unemployment, the economy is not in a position to avoid this type of shock.
The cost of indecision is likely to have an effect on the economy before 2013 even begins. The CBO anticipates that a lack of resolution will cause households and businesses to begin changing their spending in anticipation of the changes, possible reducing GDP before 2012 is even over. The stock market is already feeling the effects of an anticipated fiscal cliff.
Having said this, it's important to keep in mind that while the term “cliff” indicates an immediate disaster at the beginning of 2013, the impact of the changes - while destructive over a full year - will be gradual at first. What's more, Congress can act to change laws retroactively after the deadline. As a result, the fiscal cliff won't necessarily be an impediment to growth even if Congress doesn't address the issue until after 2013 has already begun. (Source: What is the Fiscal Cliff by Thomas Kenny, About.com)
So how about a little cooperation here. Since the Republicans didn't look too good through this election cycle, why not save face, and cooperate. Mr. Obama wants to raise taxes on those making greater than $250.000 per year. If we go over this so called fiscal cliff, everybody’s taxes, including the rich, gets raised. We could pay yearly taxes of over $2000.00. Besides, as far as I can understand, the tax raised on the “rich” really isn't that much. According to “The Fiscal Times”, the average family making $250,000 to $500,000 will pay an extra $199.00 per year in taxes. Of course the arguments are much more complex than a mere $199.00. It is about denying the President a mandate, and shackling his second administration with economic woes. It’s also about protecting that 2% of the American population from higher taxes, while the middle class continues to struggle.
But this little ploy could backfire on the Republicans. Although President Obama caved the last time the Bush tax cuts were due to expire, I have a good sense that he will not give in this time. If we do go over the cliff, Obama’s message could be even more resounding. Republicans may not have a choice but to make some retroactive corrections…before the economy really tanks. Hopefully it will not have to be that drastic. Hopefully this Congress will prove to the American people that it does have the ability to govern, despite all of the gridlock during the President’s first administration. The bottom line is, all we need is a little cooperation.