Sunday, December 23, 2012


[Overly complex ways to do simple things - by Rube Goldberg]

In the summer of 2011, Republicans and Democrats finally realized that the structural flaws in America’s fiscal management had to be addressed sooner rather than later. They created a fictional “fiscal cliff” that would deliver horrendously real consequences if all sides of the issue did not rise to the challenge. Instead of ushering in serious bi-partisan analysis and action, it accelerated and amplified the partisanship, exposing the fundamental dysfunctions of both political parties and of the Legislative and Executive Branches.

Just hours before the debacle of “Plan B” in the House, ABC-Australia reported on the realities and fantasies of the fiscal cliff. What follows is the transcript of their report.  The audio file can be heard at

EMILY BOURKE: To the United States now, where there's been furious last minute political wrangling over the so-called fiscal cliff and the mix of tax hikes and spending cuts.

As the clock ticks down towards the year-end deadline, Republicans have crafted a back-up plan in case a broader agreement can't be reached with the White House.

The Republican-dominated House of Representatives has passed a bill to cut domestic spending but after an abrupt recess, the Republicans decided to postpone a vote on tax breaks, having failed to get the numbers.

But it appears the Republican effort will be futile with Democrats in the Senate and the president vowing to block a Republican plan either way.

From Washington, Kim Landers reports.

KIM LANDERS: A few days ago a deal seemed possible.

President Barack Obama and House Republican speaker John Boehner continued to talk about how to avoid steep tax increases and spending cuts - the so-called fiscal cliff which is designed to reduce the federal deficit.

But now the two sides are further apart than ever before, openly trading political blows in the media all day.

JOHN BOEHNER: President Obama and Senate Democrats haven't done much of anything. Their plan B is just slow-walk us over the fiscal cliff and for weeks the White House said that if I moved on rates, that they would make substantial concessions on spending cuts and entitlement reforms. I did my part, they've done nothing.

KIM LANDERS: Jay Carney is the White House spokesman.

JAY CARNEY: But what we know about this exercise and we have seen this movie before is that when there was the opportunity for a compromise on something big and significant, the Republican leadership walked away and pursued something that was irrelevant to the rest of America.

KIM LANDERS: Late today, the Republican-dominated House of Representatives narrowly passed a bill to cut domestic spending.

But even before the votes were taken, the Democrat-dominated Senate was signalling that the measures would fail in the Upper House.

Dick Durbin is a Democratic senator from Illinois.

DICK DURBIN: Remember the closing scene in Thelma and Louise? Rather than face the reality of what lies ahead, they hit the gas. That's what we're hearing from speaker Boehner now, hit the gas and go over the cliff.

KIM LANDERS: Scot Faulkner is the former chief administrator of the US House of Representatives. He's highly doubtful that a deal can be struck before the end of the year.

SCOT FAULKNER: Both sides have dug themselves so deep into their trenches that you are not going to see a deal until after the first of the year and a new Congress comes in and the problem is that both sides really don't think the fiscal cliff is going to happen no matter how much they posture to the public and they both think the other side is going to give more ground and nobody is going to give more ground.

KIM LANDERS: Many government agencies are already preparing their employees for the impact of the looming budget cuts.

The US defence secretary Leon Panetta says uniformed military personnel will be exempt. But he's told civilian Pentagon employees that while no workers will face immediate unpaid leave after January the 1st, furloughs might ultimately be necessary.

Scot Faulkner explains why neither Republicans nor Democrats want to give ground.

SCOT FAULKNER: They're still thinking in terms of campaign mode, no-one is thinking in terms of governing.

KIM LANDERS: And can you suggest a reason why?

SCOT FAULKNER: They've not thought in terms of governing for over 12 years. You have, everybody is playing to their partisan audiences and in America you have very strong partisan newspapers, very strong partisan radio stations and cable television news stations and as long as their particular audience is cheering them on, no one is going to give ground and no one is going to shift from campaign mode into a governing mode.

KIM LANDERS: The impact of going over the so-called fiscal cliff has already been outlined.

According to the projections from the Congressional Budget Office, gross domestic product will drop by 0.5 per cent next year.

That contraction in the economy will cause unemployment to rise to 9.1 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2013.

But the agency estimates that after next year, economic growth will pick up and the labour market will strengthen with unemployment shrinking to 5.5 per cent by 2018.

SCOT FAULKNER: What will happen is that the first time that thing hits, one of those indicators hit recession, the recession zone, you will then have a scramble for everyone to first blame everyone else and then say okay, what can we do about this and so I think it's going to take an economic shock to finally get the political system working, even if it is only superficially.

KIM LANDERS: Scot Faulkner believes there is still time to strike a deal before the end of the year but even if that happens, he thinks it'll be a bandaid solution.

SCOT FAULKNER: At this point if they try to do anything, it's going to be either kick the can down the road hoping something else will happen or it will be very superficial. I mean they'll announce it as the coming of the new age but it'll be very superficial and not solve any of the fundamental issues facing America.

KIM LANDERS: The president is due to head to Hawaii for his Christmas holiday soon. It's unclear if the stalemate over the fiscal cliff is going to play havoc with those plans.

This is Kim Landers in Washington for The World Today.

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