5. Something but not everything goes over the cliff. This is the scenario I think most likely to occur. A good example is “The Return of the King,” the third in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. I will try to be vague enough not to spoil the ending for those who have not seen the movie or read the trilogy, but let’s just say that there is an epic battle, and some valuable and problematic items go over the cliff in the ensuing scuffle. It is hard to tell whether what goes over the cliff is thrown or falls. Now freed of their burden, the survivors come to their senses.
Of course, a movie needs more than a good ending. The most important thing is controlling the narrative so that the story unfolds as its author intends. Politicians know that as well as screenwriters, and that probably explains why there has been so much more scene-setting than fiscal resolution this year.
Like most people, I have my preferred ending to the fiscal cliff (including who I would cast as Gollum). Yet, at this point, I think I would take any ending that doesn’t invite a sequel — or that doesn’t remind me of the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote.
John Harrington is a member of SNR Denton’s tax practice and previously served as international tax counsel for the Treasury Department and tax counsel on the House Ways and Means Committee.