After heated debate, several attempts at obstruction on both sides, and aggressive media coverage over a topic that drove Americans into a state of panic that made the Mayan Apocalypse seem like just another Monday (even though it was), the Senate and the House have both passed the fiscal cliff deal.
Finally, both sides put on their big boy pants and were able to compromise on a deal that allows the Bush tax cuts to expire for individuals making over $400,000 and households making over $450,000.
From President Obama's perspective, it means fulfilling one of the most significant promises of his campaign. He has consistently talked of reforms in the tax code that would put more money in the pockets of middle-class Americans while the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share towards deficit reduction. He suggested that there was a revenue problem in this country, that there was not enough money for the federal government to properly fund education, healthcare, research projects, and agencies such as NASA and the EPA. This was a battle largely won by the President, but nonetheless there is still the upcoming battle on the debt ceiling and the spending cuts that Senate and House Republicans are seeking.
From the GOP perspective, this was a fight that they were going to lose, whether they wanted to admit it or not. Many Republican senators and representatives wanted to extend the Bush tax cuts and make cuts in entitlement spending, claiming that both were essential to growing the economy. However, the President was firm in his resolve and declared that extending the tax cuts for wealthier Americans was non-negotiable. Obstruction suddenly was not a weapon at their disposal, since taxes were going to increase one way or another. Now, there were Republicans that stuck to their guns and fought firmly in the name of Grover Norquist and voted against the fiscal cliff deal, but ultimately lost. Their last weapon is the fight for the debt ceiling and further fighting over spending cuts.
What does this mean for Americans? Let's start with the most obvious effect. Along with payroll tax increases and the income tax increases of about 1% of Americans from 35 percent to 39.6 percent, unemployment benefits have been extended and the automatic spending cuts on entitlement programs, the military, and other agencies have put off for another two months. Basically, taxes have gone up for virtually everyone, but without the same intensity as it would have been had the deal not been passed. Also, the measure will extend federal dairy policies through September, preventing the doubling of milk prices.
For the federal government, the measure will cancel a scheduled pay raise for members of Congress and, according to the Congressional Budget Office, will add $4 trillion to the debt over the next decade, higher than if Congress had not reached a compromise at all. However, this does not take into account the spending cuts that will be put into place later on in the year.
I say "will be" for a very important reason. I do not believe that the deal is complete. I feel that spending cuts are something that Democrats and Republicans will not easily agree on. It seemed to be a lot easier to compromise when tax increases were involved. This is mainly because of the sudden valor of Democratic leaders and President Obama's resilience when it came to his campaign promise of increases on the top 2% of Americans. Republicans suddenly had nowhere to run anymore and their usual method of obstruction and filibuster became an obsolete weapon. Had they done that, tax increases would have increased across the board to the levels experienced in the Clinton Administration. First off, I do not think Mr. Norquist would have been happy at all, but neither would have other Americans, especially interest groups such as the AARP, who have threatened politicians with negative advertisements if Medicare and Social Security had received cuts. So what did Congress do as a result? Compromise at least on taxes and agree to fight for cuts at a later date. Not everyone was in agreement with that, but I see it as better than nothing. Both sides of the aisle receive political points and Mr. Obama can sleep better at night after a job well done. To be continued.
Tomorrow is a new day, and it will be a day where other matters need to be addressed. Many social reforms have been promised by the President and other Democrats. The Sandy Hook Massacre is still ringing in peoples' ears and the drums of gun control are still playing. Immigrants are increasingly getting more political exposure and have gotten the President's attention and his word that immigration reform will be a top priority. Same-sex marriage is going back to the Supreme Court, with Proposition 8 and DOMA being tested for their constitutionality. Hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants are still reaping in the benefits of Deferred Action. So this year will be an important one for social politics and will be a busy one for K Street. Both liberals and conservatives know which sides they will be fighting for and neither side want to be on the wrong side of history. But here's a little something to remember: when it comes to social issues and the rights of the people, historically, the side that fights for equality and against the status quo will always win. One way or another, they will always win. Times are changing and today's generation does not have the same mentality as the generation that preceded it, and so on. And, as the public's mentality on social issues change, our political culture should change with it.
2013 will be a tough fight when it comes to economic and social issues. The elections are over and it is time to go back to work. That requires politicians to at least try to work with each other like the well-behaved and mature adults that they presumably want to be. This country has been on the road to recovery and the American people want to feel its impact rather than let the numbers speak for themselves. I feel that the fiscal deal is a step in the right direction, but not enough to completely avert future economic problems. It is an easy fix, but, like fixing a leak, it is not enough to plug it up with paper clips and chewing gum. As for social issues, I am pushing for social equality and giving immigrants, undocumented or documented, a more comprehensive pathway to citizenship, especially if they have lived in the United States as otherwise law-abiding citizens. My arguments for that will come another day.
To close up this post and open the floor for debate, what are your opinions of the social issues previously mentioned? Submit your opinions in the comments section and cast your vote on the poll displayed on the home page.