Beam: No easy fiscal cliff solutions

By By Jim Beam / American Press

If it weren’t for the Far Left and the

Far Right in Congress, the nation’s future might be in more sensible

hands. Democratic

liberals don’t want anyone fooling with Medicare, Medicaid and

Social Security. Republican conservatives don’t want any additional

taxes, particularly any more for the wealthiest 2 percent of this

country.

President Obama and House Speaker John

Boehner, R-Ohio, are caught in between. They are the chief negotiators

who are trying

to reach a budget agreement that will help the nation avoid

falling off a “fiscal cliff.” The cliff refers to the $1.2 trillion

in spending cuts and tax increases that will take effect in

January if a budget plan isn’t adopted.

Two ideas are on the table. Obama has proposed $1.6 trillion in higher taxes over a decade, and insists he won’t give in on

his plan to raise tax rates on families making more than $250,000 a year.

The president wants the whole ball of

wax — hundreds of billions of dollars in new spending, a possible

extension of the temporary

Social Security payroll tax and presidential power to raise the

national debt limit without congressional approval. If Republicans

go along, he would support $600 billion in spending cuts to health

programs like Medicare.

A response didn’t take long. “I was

just flabbergasted,” Boehner told Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, who

delivered the message.

“I looked at him (Geithner) and said, ‘You can’t be serious.’ ”

Boehner offers a 10-year plan that would save $2.2 trillion by increasing the Medicare eligibility age and lower Social Security

cost-of-living increases. His proposal also includes $800 billion in new revenue over a decade that could include reducing

or eliminating some tax deductions for the wealthy. However, the GOP is adamant about not increasing taxes on the wealthy.

The White House called Boehner’s plan nothing more than “magic beans and fairy dust,” according to The Associated Press. A

spokesman said, “If they (Republicans) are willing to do higher taxes on the wealthy, there’s a lot we can talk about. And

if they are not, then they’ll push us over the cliff.”

Anyone who sees any reason for hope coming out of those White House and Republican responses has to be an eternal optimist.

Political analyst Charlie Cook said in a

National Journal magazine column it is totally unrealistic for

Democrats to expect

Republicans to jump off their tax (for the wealthy) cliff without

Democrats having to jump off their entitlement (Medicare,

Medicaid and Social Security) cliff.

Members of Congress who think they can

buck their parties’ wishes had better guess again. Boehner let it be

known quickly

that he wasn’t happy with an Oklahoma House member’s suggestion

they give some ground on taxing the wealthy. The speaker also

stole a page from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s political handbook

when he stripped four conservative members of major committee

assignments for voting against his wishes.

Leaders of both major political parties know how to keep their members in line, and that is another reason why it is so hard

to reach common ground on this critical financial situation facing the country in January.

Matthew Dowd of National Journal said he spent nearly a week in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia talking to “real people

and real businesses” there. He said he wanted to know what they were worried about and what they wanted from Washington.

Dowd said, “If they had one direct

piece of advice for both the administration and Congress it would be:

‘Don’t act like children

and let us go over the fiscal cliff for spite’s sake. Come to the

table as adults and compromise and make whatever deal there

is long term. Give some certainty.’ ”

Why can’t they do it? It’s because the

Far Left and Far Right don’t believe in compromise. But that isn’t the

only reason.

People who benefit from government programs don’t want them

touched, and their costs are a big part of the national financial

dilemma.

The latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll shows the public supports spending cuts, but

not to entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security. An astounding 79 percent of those surveyed said they don’t

want Medicare cut at all, according to Matthew Cooper of National Journal.

The public is more open to changes in programs that benefit the poor and lower-middle class. Even so, the magazine said the

poll showed 52 percent of women and 45 percent of men don’t want the government to cut food stamps and housing vouchers.

Reaction was mixed when people were

asked about cuts to the military budget, another big ticket item. They

don’t want to see

$600 billion in automatic cuts if a fiscal cliff agreement isn’t

reached, but 47 percent approve of some cuts to Defense spending.

As you can see, this fiscal cliff thing

is awfully complicated. Members of Congress want to keep the folks back

home happy,

but too many of them who are on the left and right don’t want to

give any ground. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough people

in the middle willing to do whatever it takes to get the nation’s

fiscal house in order.

Maybe Pogo had the right answer in that 1971 comic strip when he delivered that famous line, “Yep, son, we have met the enemy

and he is us.”

• • •

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or jbeam@americanpress.com