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KITTLE: A government of the debtors, by the debtors, for the debtors

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By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

Can’t get enough fiscal cliff?

Well, have I got a deal for you.

Thanks to our do-nothing-until-the-last-possible-second Congress – lame duck, indeed! – we’ll get to hear the term that has become a tedious household name many more times in the coming months. By my count, the federal government faces at least three more run-ins with a fiscal cliff of sorts.

That’s three more opportunities for political grandstanding, for blustering and belly-aching, for brinksmanship and impotent governance. Three more opportunities to kick the can down the road, to borrow a worn-out phrase turned by people who have mostly worn out their welcome.

More fiscal cliffs coming, and debt-ridden America still has yet to deal with the real problem.

The bipartisan “deal” brokered between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Vice President Joe Biden staves off automatic tax hikes on most American incomes. But the agreement postpones the deep spending cuts to federal programs that would have gone into effect had a Congress taken no action – something Congress specialized in for months leading up to fiscal cliff zero hour, Jan. 1, 2013.

President Obama applauded himself before flying off into the sunset to finish his vacation in Hawaii.

“A central promise of my campaign for president was to change the tax code that was too skewed towards the wealthy at the expense of working middle-class Americans,” he said at a Tuesday news conference. “Tonight we’ve done that. Thanks to the votes of Democrats and Republicans in Congress, I will sign a law that raises taxes on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans while preventing a middle-class tax hike that could have sent the economy back into recession and obviously had a severe impact on families all across America.”

Forget that the president appears to be sticking with his campaign rhetoric, which turns out to be fuzzy math (the cliff deal raised the taxing threshold from $250,000 to $450,000 in annual household income, so considerably less than 1 percent of the “wealthiest Americans” will feel the tax bite.) This compromise that Obama lauds and many members of Congress begrudgingly approved is the mark of desperation from political leaders who have run out of ideas and courage. You know something’s weird when U.S. Reps. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, and Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, agree on anything.

Instead of dealing with the real issue of debt control, the cliff deal merely delays the feud over federal spending cuts for two months, about the same time Congress holds its regularly scheduled scuffle over whether to raise the ceiling on federal borrowing. By the end of March, Congress will have to deal with another fiscal issue it has failed to effectively address, the continuing budget resolution.

Here’s another phrase we’ve heard ad nauseum in recent months: If Congress fails to act …

Failing to act is Congress’ modus operandi. When eventually it is forced to act, it punts — doing what is politically expedient but fiscally damaging for the generations who will have to bear the weight of these lawmakers’ bad decisions.

In the shadow of all that inaction is a metastasizing $16 trillion-plus national debt, consuming more and more of taxpayer money in interest payments alone.

While benefiting the vast majority of taxpayers, the cliff deal is expected to clip revenue by $3.64 trillion and bolster spending by $332 billion over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

But the problem isn’t in holding the line on taxes, which, by the way, could have been done months ago. The meat of the matter is a Congress unwilling to tackle out-of-control spending, to get the U.S. government on the road to fiscal sanity. That means making tough choices, something federal leaders are loathe to do. Their plan seems tantamount to a fat guy resolving to lose weight by upping his pants size. His clothes may fit better for a while, but he’s still fat.

The bigger problem, it seems, is that this ineffectual Congress is more than ever a reflection of the people represented by it.

Voters say they want their lawmakers to get tough on spending. Two thirds of those questioned in a CNN poll more than a month ago said any agreement on the fiscal cliff should include a mix of spending cuts and tax increases. Congress and the White House delivered on the latter, failed again on the former.

We are a nation of debtors.

So why would the typical U.S. consumer, buried under average credit card debt of nearly $5,000 per borrower, be overly concerned about the rising federal deficits and debt? Why would the average American, carrying some $47,000 in overall debt, many of whom are paying an average of $1,700 per year in smartphone bills, worry about a trillion here and a trillion there?

It has become a buy now, pay never nation.  And our can-kicking Congress is merely acting as representatives of the debtors, by the debtors, for the debtors.

Contact M.D. Kittle at mkittle@wisconsinreporter.com


M.D. Kittle is bureau chief of Wisconsin Watchdog and First Amendment Reporter for Watchdog.org. Kittle is a 25-year veteran of print, broadcast and online media. He is the recipient of several awards for journalism excellence from The Associated Press, Inland Press, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, and others. He is also a member of Investigative Reporters & Editors. Kittle's extensive series on Wisconsin's unconstitutional John Doe investigations was the basis of a 2014 documentary on Glenn Beck's TheBlaze. His work has been featured in Town Hall, Fox News, NewsMax, and other national publications, and his reporting has been cited by news outlets nationwide. Kittle is a fill-in talk show host on the Jay Weber Show and the Vicki McKenna Show in Milwaukee and Madison.