With the much talked about "Grand Bargain," Washington is trying to do in six weeks what it had little success doing in the last four years: compromise. Democrats want to raise taxes on the rich, Republicans want to cut government programs, and this all has to happen before the clock strikes midnight to bring in January 1st, 2013 or else we will go careening off the "fiscal cliff."
What is the fiscal cliff? It is something set up by Congress during the debt ceiling negotiations to, as the New Yorker's James Surowiecki writes, "take itself hostage." If no deal is in place, taxes will go up on everyone, and $1.2 trillion in cuts (half from defense spending), trigger automatically. No one wants this deal. Everyone wants to prevent taxes from going up on everyone but the top 2% of the country, Republicans don't want defense cuts and Democrats don't want cuts to social programs like Social Security and Medicare. Surowiecki argues that the cuts should be put off until they can be done in a more measured way:
Sometimes it makes sense to take yourself hostage in order to compel yourself to do something difficult. But that doesn’t mean that if you don’t actually do the difficult thing, it makes sense to shoot yourself in the head. Nor does it mean that hastily-arrived-at solutions, even ones that are labelled “grand bargain,” are necessarily preferable to the status quo.
He isn't the only one arguing against the whole concept of the grand bargain. The Atlantic's Matthew O'Brien doesn't believe that the Republicans are really ready for earnest negotiations, and offers this thought:
But what happens if Obama calls their bluff? Not a grand bargain. There are plenty of permutations when it comes to the Bush tax cuts, sequestration, and the debt ceiling, and most of them probably involve some kind of can-kicking a la the last debt ceiling deal.
The Boston Globe takes a different, perhaps more mainstream tack, saying that the election was a mandate for a grand bargain compromise, and that the Administration must come together and act before we hit the fiscal cliff.
But this was a status quo election in result only. With both presidential candidates and many victorious congressional candidates expressing a desire for bipartisan solutions, the message from the ballot box was clear: Obama and Congress need to work together, immediately, to avoid the upcoming “fiscal cliff” involving the expiration of the Bush tax cuts and automatic spending cuts to defense and other important programs.
The Las Vegas Review Journal agrees, saying, "If a mandate can be gleaned from this year's divisive campaign, it's this: Work it out together."
Slate's Matthew Yglesias has a different kind of grand bargain in mind: one that focuses on climate change through raising revenue with a carbon tax:
I'm not one to go all gaga over grand bargains, but this is the grand bargain that actually makes sense—a proposal that would divide both parties' core coalitions. Fossil fuel interests wouldn't like it, but it's very favorable to the generic rich person. Populist Midwestern Democrats would hate it, but coastal liberals would like it—a plan like that wouldn't fully address the climate crisis by any means, but it would be a huge step forward.
What will actually happen? Hard to say, but due to the machinations of this congress, the stage is set for some entertaining political theater.