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As 'fiscal cliff' looms, what should Congress do?

December 26, 2012|By Jon Healey
  • House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), right, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) address reporters about the fiscal cliff negotiations on Dec. 21.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), right, and Majority Leader Eric… (J. Scott Applewhite / AP…)

How's this for a cheerful headline: "Washington’s Christmas gift to America: Nothing"? That was Politico's gloomy day-after-Christmas assessment of lawmakers' sputtering efforts to avert a bevy of tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to take effect on or around Jan. 1. 

With House Republicans unable to muster the votes for a counteroffer by Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), the chances of them reaching a "grand bargain" with President Obama and Senate Democrats seem remote at best. Instead, the most likely outcome is a stop-gap measure that postpones some of the tax hikes and spending cuts, leaving the stinky mess for the next Congress to clean up.

Of course, the next Congress will look a lot like the current one. Democrats will have a few more seats in both chambers, but the balance of power will be basically the same. So will the degree of polarization. The atmosphere is so bad that observers no longer assume Congress will at least kick the can down the road. Instead, the conventional wisdom is that lawmakers will trip over their own legs.

That's likely to happen in part because there are factions in both parties that want the tax hikes and spending cuts to go into effect, regardless of the potential effect on the economy. For Democrats, the tax hikes would take Grover Norquist and his no-new-taxes pledge out of the equation -- the debate would be about whose taxes to cut, not whose to raise. Meanwhile, some Republicans believe that the public will blame any economic problems that ensue on Obama and his insistence on higher tax rates for the wealthy -- despite the polls that show the public already poised to blame the GOP.

What do you think Congress should try to do in the waning days of 2012? Take our scientifically invalid poll, leave a comment, or do both!

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Follow Jon Healey on Twitter @jcahealey

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