The worst part of the fiscal cliff deal isn't the specifics—though they do stink. It's being reminded again how utterly detached Washington is from reality.
The question, now that we've finally hiked taxes on the rich (and doesn't everyone feel better knowing that life is that much fairer?), is: How are we going to continue paying for the government we've been promised? As it turns out, raising tax rates on the "wealthy," the most pressing issue of the Obama Age, amounts to a mere $62 billion of new revenue.
To put it in perspective, the deficit spending this year alone was more than $1 trillion. So the fiscal deal will supposedly bring in $620 billion in new revenue over the next decade, which is less than any year's worth of debt under President Barack Obama. If redirecting resources from private-sector investments to green energy subsidies feels like a victory, congratulations.
But if you're not a class warrior, a Hollywood studio, a maker of electric motorcycles, a booze producer from Puerto Rico, an algae grower or NASCAR—all of which are subsidized in the bill—you're out of luck. For the rest of you, there are higher taxes. The expiration of the payroll tax holiday means that Washington will continue to pretend Social Security and Medicare are "paid for," and according to the Tax Policy Center, 77 percent of you will see your taxes rise an average of $1,635 per year.
The "American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012," indeed.
For all of you, there is also more debt, as the Congressional Budget Office found that the fiscal cliff deal increases the deficit by $4 trillion.
Yes, this is what Americans voted for in November. But if we're supposed to believe that this deal reflects a "balanced, responsible" approach as the president asserts, what does the future hold? The GOP has surrendered on its core issue: It voted for a tax hike. Obama? No spending cuts. No tax reform. No debt reduction. No entitlement reform. There is no balance. And none is coming.
How can we expect any useful policy to emerge from manufactured crisis, anyway? Nearly every decision made during Obama's presidency has been conducted under the canopy of catastrophe. The result is hastily assembled legislation that is larded up with goodies. It's no accident.
And a newly elected Congress will be immediately submerged into another round of "negotiations," this time centered on the debt ceiling (which we've already hit). Failure to surrender to the president's demands allows the media to portray Republicans as the ones pushing the nation into default/over cliffs/etc. Low-information voters will soon be informed by Democrats that the debt ceiling, rather than debt, is the villain.
Even if we concede that Republicans, with no leverage or leadership to speak of, did the best they could in averting even higher taxes, they still lost. And the dynamics of the debate have not changed. This might be politically fortuitous for the president, but it is a disaster for the rest of us. Obama is unserious about debt because anything that cuts the size of Washington threatens his agenda. But a looming $50 trillion unfunded entitlement crisis is real. And the party in charge hasn't offered any concrete ideas on how to deal with it.
So now that the rich pay more, it'd be nice if we could stop incessantly complaining about how dysfunctional Washington has become—as if ideological unanimity were something to be desired in a free nation—and start talking about how indifferent the president has been on one of the critical issues we face.