Deal or no deal

According to the Washington Post, “the contours of a deal to avert the ‘fiscal cliff’ are becoming increasingly clear.” That deal would consist of three elements:

First, tax rates on the “wealthy” would increase, as President Obama insists they must, but by a bit less than he proposes and perhaps with a more realistic definition of who is wealthy. Some deductions would also be limited, as Republicans have proposed, in order to raise additional revenue. As to the amount of revenue to be raised, the parties would compromise between the $1.6 trillion Obama wants and the $800 billion the Republicans have agreed to (and that Obama talked about until he pulled his “bait and switch”). The compromise number would likely approach $1.2 trillion.

Second, the parties would also compromise on the amount of savings to be realized from entitlement programs. Obama would move up from $350 billion over a decade and Republicans would move down from Boehner’s proposal of $600 billion from health programs and $200 billion from reducing cost-of-living adjustments in Social Security.

Third, The parties would agree to additional savings, presumably from spending cuts, sufficient to postpone the $100 billion in across-the-board cuts.

Actually, these “contours” have always been “clear.” But there are several problems with them. For one thing, while they would avoid, for now, the “fiscal cliff,” they would do little to avert the more important “debt cliff.” The revenue/savings numbers are far too small.

That aside, because of time constraints, only the raising of tax rates is a real component of this deal. There isn’t enough time before the end of the year to agree to specific revisions in the tax code or to improve the solvency of Medicare and Social Security.

And “time” isn’t the only problem. As the Post acknowledges, coming up with specifics regarding tax code revisions and alterations to entitlement programs “could kill any chance of passage.” Actually it would kill any such chance.

Since that’s the case, no reason exists to believe that the core elements of the contemplated deal, from a Republican perspective, will come to fruition later. So, agreeing in principle to these elements is meaningless.

In short, the contemplated deal, should Boehner strike it with the president, will be a very tough sell to Republican members of Congress. And so it should be.


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