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Why the “Fiscal Cliff” Bores the Snot Out of Me

Enough already!

I can’t take it anymore.

I can barely write the words “fiscal cliff” without dosing off. And I’m not alone here. Utter the term to insomniacs and out they’ll go.

The hackneyed metaphor, the breathless reporting on cable TV, the jockeying for position—it all bores the snot out of me. This story is not of the same magnitude as the November elections or the Sandy Hook massacre, yet the cable talk shows play it at the same high-pitched volume.

And after this weekend or by the end of January at the latest, Congress will have passed a budget bill that maintains middle class tax cuts and averts the alleged calamities that, in all probability, were never going to come to pass anyway.

After all, which elected official is really going to want to be held responsible for raising taxes across the board and sending the stock market into a swoon?

So the endless hours, days, and weeks of overheated commentary will have been for naught.

Plus, the outlines of the eventual deal are already in sight. Obama has—surprise, surprise--given ground on his position that there should be no extension of tax breaks for those making more than $250,000. (Watch for an additional concession on the estate tax, too. That’s what the rich really want.)

Obama has already agreed, foolishly, to cut domestic programs, which will risk a double-dip recession.

Obama has already, agreed, shamefully, to “the chained Consumer Price Index,” which will diminish the amount seniors get for Social Security. (Note: The average senior gets less than $15,000 a year on Social Security. Most seniors depend on their Social Security for more than half their income. Two out of five seniors rely on it for 90 percent of their income, and a quarter of them rely entirely on it. These seniors are barely getting by, as it is.)

What’s been lost in almost all the coverage is the fact that Obama set in motion the train of events that is leading to this regressive outcome.

He willingly invoked Republican rhetoric in exaggerating the problems of budget deficits and the national debt. For instance, he erroneously compared the nation’s budget to family budgets. He also talked about not saddling our grandchildren with debt and not putting our nation’s spending on the credit card. These are all rightwing tropes.

He appointed Peter Orszag to be his first director of the Office of Management and Budget. Orszag was on record favoring the “chained CPI.” (Orszag is now at Citigroup.)

He empaneled the Bowles-Simpson commission, which he didn’t need to do. And he packed it with people who saw dragons in every deficit.

He failed to call the Republicans’ bluff on previous occasions when they played chicken with the debt limit.

And he offered a “grand bargain” with John Boehner last year that has many of the same awful concessions he’s proposing now.

The “fiscal cliff” has been a tiresome charade, and it disguises the fact that both parties are taking us down the path of austerity.