On Sunday, the New York Times published an editorial about the “fiscal cliff” pundits and politicians are concerned will hit the nation on January 1, 2013. Consisting of spending cuts and tax increases, the “cliff” is based upon the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) expectations that the nation will be put back into recession if the tax increases and spending cuts are put into place… but also how our nation’s fiscal health in the medium-to-long-term will be harmed if we ignore the impact of record deficits and, most importantly, our nation’s growing health care costs. According to the Times:
The challenge then is for Congress to foster economic recovery and at the same time put the budget on a sustainable path.
As policy goes, that is not so hard to do, in part, because lawmakers have a lot of variables to work with. Among the major upcoming changes, the Bush tax cuts are set to expire at year’s end, as are the payroll tax cut and federal unemployment benefits that have been on the books for the past two years.
At the same time, deep across-the-board budget cuts from last year’s debt-ceiling deal will begin to take effect in 2013, while several routine provisions will lapse unless Congress renews them, including measures to protect middle-class taxpayers from the alternative minimum tax and to ensure that doctors receive adequate reimbursements from Medicare.
While one can dispute the Times’ priorities on what policies are most important to address at the end of the year – the editorial distinctly calls for a fair amount of increased taxation and only a minimum of spending reductions – the newspaper deserves credit for taking an honest look at the totality of the policies that will come into play next year. This is unlike Media Matters for America and former Obama advisor Jared Bernstein who, in their respective analyses of the newest CBO report on the nation’s financial future, ignored the spending cuts starting in January 2013. Both Media Matters and Bernstein focused almost entirely on the Bush tax policies ending at the close of 2012, thus ignoring the impacts of doctor payment cuts, the Budget Control Act cuts and the alternative minimum tax hikes that are also set to end. This is also unlike many Members of Congress in both parties, who ignore their alleged principles on spending cuts and tax increases when they affect their respective sacred cows.
There is no doubt that the Times is coming at things from a liberal perspective, much as I approach public policy from a conservative perspective. I believe we need no tax increases – though I am supportive of cutting out loopholes and lowering rates equivalently – and spending cuts of at least $600 billion next year. However, my policy disagreements do not take away from the fact that the Times is engaging in what everyone across the political spectrum should partake of: an honest debate from respective political and philosophical positions. Given the split nature of Washington between parties, special interests and election concerns (all of which should be, but are not, secondary to doing what’s best for the country as a whole), let’s hope the Times’ editorial encourages other prominent voices in calling for a legitimate debate on what could be one of the most significant tax and spending debates in modern times.