The news is already abuzz with dire warnings about the impending 'fiscal cliff,' a hearty stew of tax increases and spending cuts (largely in military spending, but in many other areas of government as well) scheduled to come about on January 1, 2013. Republicans and Democrats alike are running about, stirring up a panic, insisting that this eventually is a catastrophe to be avoided. But ironically, neither points out that even if we do 'go over the fiscal cliff,' based on the tax increases and spending cuts to be implemented therein, our government would still be running an overall budget deficit (though much less of one, into the foreseeable future). That's how far we've come from Bill Clinton's 'budget surplus' of the year 2000. And then there are some economists who think we ought to simply go right over that cliff, make those cuts, raise up those taxes, and focus on the long-term benefits to the economy claimed to arise from deficit-reduction, instead of the short-term hardships likely to arise from tax hikes and the absence of the stimulus afforded by military contracts.

Now, what exactly are the elements of this impending political calamity? Well the two biggest chunks of it are the 'sequester' and the expiration of what were initially the 'Bush tax cuts,' but were eventually extended and expanded into becoming the 'Obama tax cuts.' The sequester is part of a deal the Dems and Repubs made in their last negotiation over raising the debt ceiling, a guarantee that reforms would be implemented backed by automatic steep cuts in various areas, but largely in defense spending. Just for a bit of perspective, the defense spending levels would be cut so far that they would plunge to levels not seen in.... actually, maybe a decade or so. That's right, the assertedly catastrophic drop in defense spending would only roll it back to the levels it was already at even after 9/11. But, because defense spending is often a sly way for the government to boost employment, its reduction would push unemployment back up over 8%, for maybe a year. It would take that long for the economy to adjust to the shift, after which the experts seem to agree, things would spring back on the strength of a shrinking deficit. As for taxes, well it's not only the Bush tax cuts and Obama tax cuts which expire, causing rates to jump back to the levels Clinton put into effect. A separate reduction to the alternative minimum tax expires as well, as do many provisions extending unemployment compensation -- and even Obamacare has its own, comparatively minute but definitely there, tax increases. At the same time, unemployment benefits would end for the millions of long-term unemployed, just as a litany of new state and federal fees kick in.

A big part of the problem here -- the reason why even taking the harsh medicine of the fiscal cliff would not set our financial house in order -- is that the first decade of this century saw an unprecedented dumping of money into military adventures, a slow-bleeding occupation of Afghanistan and an all-out splurge in Iraq. (No, I'm not holding Obama blameless here -- he could've started our withdrawal from both countries the day he took office; instead we stayed in Iraq for two additional years, and are on schedule to stay in Afghanistan for six years into the Obama presidency). America's last decade of militarism was unaccompanied by the usual taxation and other economic bites designed to make all the nation share in the pain of warmongering. Well we're all sharing in it now, and will be for a while to come. And that's not even bringing into account the giveaways to Wall Street and the routine history of subsidies for everything from Hollywood filmmakers to agricultural concerns. So perhaps the proper name for this event ought not be 'fiscal cliff,' but 'fiscal gigantic hole we've dug for ourselves.'



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