Even if President Barack Obama and Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, could agree on something big, there’s little to no chance that the politics of the budget, the legislative technicalities involved with multiple big tax and spending changes and the needed buy-in from voters can be dealt with before the fiscal cliff policies go into effect starting Jan. 1. Therefore, if there’s any fiscal cliff agreement at all, it’s most likely to be something much, much smaller than a grand bargain.
The entertainment provided by the fiscal cliff has also been created from the political equivalent of the classic scene in a movie where the husband or wife who is caught cheating demands that his or her spouse believe their denials rather than what they’re seeing with their own eyes.
The most obvious example of this is the House Republicans insisting they’re not going to vote for a tax increase while also making it clear they’re willing to agree to an increase in revenues. Even more cheating-like still are the GOP protests that voting to eliminate existing deductions and credits to get more revenue isn’t the same as voting for a tax increase, even though many of the people who will no longer be able to use the eliminated provisions will end up — wait for it — paying more in taxes.
And then there’s the growing dispute about whether this is really a fiscal cliff that will have immediate and terrible economic consequences or a slope that will impose limited instant damage that will get much worse the longer it stays in place.
This is a bit like what Hollywood tries to do when it estimates the weekend ticket sales for an about-to-be-released film. The difference, of course, is that the only thing poor sales might ruin is the studio that made the picture rather than the U.S. economy. In Variety, the first would be called a “floppola.” The second would be a disaster in any language.
Stan Collender (@thebudgetguy) is a partner at Qorvis Communications and author of “The Guide to the Federal Budget.” His blog is capitalgainsandgames.com.