ENID, Okla. —
It leads every newscast, claims large newspaper headlines and dominates talk radio from coast to coast.
It is the looming financial disaster facing this country if Congress and the president can’t reach some agreement by year’s end.
Should it come to pass, the talking heads tell us, it will be bad. How bad? Who knows. And what exactly will come to pass in the new year if Mr. Obama and his pals in Congress can’t make nice before the ball drops?
Heck if I know. So I decided to go to the source, the guy with all the answers, the one person with his finger on the pulse of this potential economic disaster — Fiscal Cliff.
He’s kind of a nerdy guy, padding around in his slippers, chewing on an unlighted pipe and wearing a cardigan with worn places on both elbows and bits of paper hanging out of the pockets. But he knows his stuff when it comes to the economy.
Here is the transcript of our exclusive interview:
“Good morning, Mr. Cliff, or do I simply call you Fiscal?”
“Cliff is fine. Fiscal’s just a nickname. I’ve been called that since kindergarten when I convinced my classmates to invest their milk money in a Ponzi scheme. I made a killing.”
“OK, Cliff. How do you feel about your name being used to describe the looming financial crisis the country is facing?”
“Great. I copyrighted the phrase weeks ago. Now, every time someone says or writes the words Fiscal Cliff, cha ching.”
“I see. Well, then, could you please explain to me exactly what will happen if the good folks in D.C. don’t reach an agreement in the next few weeks?”
“Well, a rogue planet will swoop suddenly into our solar system and strike Earth, ending life as we know it, with the possible exception of cockroaches.”
“Wow, I had no idea ...”
“Ha, ha, ha, ha. I’m sorry, but if you could have seen your face. No, that’s what some crazies say will happen Dec. 21, when the Mayan calendar ends. OK, if an agreement is not reached by Dec. 31, everyone’s taxes will go up, federal spending will be cut, unemployment will rise, consumer confidence will plummet and the ecomony will slip back into a recession.”
“Wow, that makes the rogue planet thing look tame by comparison.”
“Oh, well, the planet won’t be reduced to an uninhabitable wasteland, just our economy. People will have less money to spend, the government will have less money to spend and the markets will go in the dumper. More folks will lose their jobs and the only people who will give Congress good marks will be their next of kin.”
“What are the sticking points?”
“Republicans don’t want to see the deep defense cuts that will come if no agreement is reached, while the Democrats fear reductions in domestic entitlement spending. Both sides are in favor of extending the Bush-era tax cuts that are about to expire, up to a point. The president wants to raise taxes on everyone making more than $250,000 a year, the group Republicans call the working poor.”
“Don’t we need to raise revenue and cut spending to begin trimming our federal deficit?”
“Have you ever heard the phrase, too much too soon? Sure something needs to be done, but not all at once. We have to raise revenue and cut spending to trim the deficit, but we didn’t get into this mess overnight and we can’t expect to get out of it quickly. Cookie?”
“No, thanks. Can an agreement be reached in time?”
“In Washington? Are you on something? Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on anything, except they all hate to pick up the check at lunch. Besides, this is a lame duck Congress, so outgoing members have no incentive to compromise, preferring instead to hang the impending recession on the president.”
“My, aren’t we feeling rosy today? OK, Mr. Grinch, what will have to happen for this crisis to be averted.”
“The president will have to give a little on spending and that whole taxing the rich thing. And many in the GOP will have to turn their back on Grover Norduist.”
“He’s the powerful Washington lobbyist who bullied a lot of Congressmen into signing a pledge that they would never, under any circumstances, vote to raise taxes.”
“So should we go over the Fiscal Cliff, who wins?”
“Besides me, you mean? You owe me two bucks. Nobody, except perhaps Fox News and Grover Norquist, of course.”
“So what can the average person do?”
“Write or call your Congressman, email the White House and urge them to resort to a tried and true political tool, one that hasn’t been seen often in the halls of Congress in recent years — compromise. Or you could pray, though I suspect even the Almighty has given up on Washington.”
“So should we save or spend, this being the Christmas shopping season and all? And by the way, what are you asking Santa Claus for this year?”
“Personally, I’m saving to have my money to have my “Mitt Romney for President” tattoo removed from my derriere. And as for Santa, I’m hoping for stock options and a Timothy Geithner voodoo doll. And I’m asking for them to be delivered Dec. 20. I’m hedging my bets on that whole Mayan apocalypse thing.”
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.