What a sorry spectacle it has been in Washington, DC these last few weeks. Our political leaders failed to meet their self-imposed deadline for dealing with the deficit in a manner that doesn’t mean austerity-driven recession.
And while it looks like they do have a bipartisan deal — assuming it can pass the House after winning easy Senate approval — the plan avoids many of the toughest choices (details here).
The deal isn’t terrible — it extends the wind tax credit, for instance. In the top story on its website, the NY Times asserts that the plan “while containing many concessions that angered Democrats, still favors the latter party’s priorities and imposes a tax increase on the wealthiest Americans.”
If Obama stands his ground in that confrontation, this deal won’t look bad in retrospect. If he doesn’t, yesterday will be seen as the day he began throwing away his presidency and the hopes of everyone who supported him.
That final sentence is true only if you don’t count Obama’s failure on climate as the day(s) he began throwing away his presidency and the hopes of countless generations (see “Obama Wins Reelection, Now Must Become A Climate Hawk To Avoid Dust-Bin Of History, Dust Bowl For America“).
The NY Times concludes that one big lesson from the debacle is “Grand Bargains Give Way to Quick Fixes” and “bipartisan legislative dreams seem all but certain to be miniaturized” — but that has been obvious for a while. It’s not like Obama got any House GOP votes to support either the stimulus bill or health care plan.
Indeed, the fiscal cliff was a largely manufactured crisis, as Krugman explained in his Sunday NYT oped, “Brewing Up Confusion.” The truth is for all the political hand-wringing, all the media sturm und drang, neither party considers the deficit the preeminent or most urgent economic threat to the nation. Progressives understand slow economic growth and high unemployment are the top problems and that the solution is more investment plus help for the unemployed. The Tea Party crowd that have taken over the conservative movement (and GOP) thinks government spending is the problem (otherwise they would have hardly been so adamant against tax hikes being part of a grand bargain).
Cartoonists, at least, get that the fiscal cliff is a mild sore throat compared to the early-stage emphysema that is the climate cliff.
Image by Matt Bors/Daily Kos via Buzzfeed.
So perhaps the headline question should have been “Does The Fiscal Cliff Debacle Say Anything New About Our Chances To Avoid Climate Cliff?” To answer that question, it’s worth pointing out what we already knew about those chances from the last truly big economic threat to the nation — which I discussed in an October 2008 post, “Is 450 ppm (or less) politically possible? Part 7: The harsh lessons of the financial bailout.” I’m excerpting it below because the piece shows how little has changed in 4+ years: