Washington gets some credit for hammering out a last-minute deal to keep us from falling off the fiscal cliff. But, the deal addresses only the easier of two parts – taxes – while ignoring the harder part – spending.
The deal was worked out primarily between the White House and Republican leaders in the Senate after negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama fell apart. It focused primarily on preventing a tax increase for middle income taxpayers due to the expiration of cuts passed in 2001 and 2003.
Most of the tax debate was over the definition of middle income. It eventually was decided that it would include anyone making less than $400,000 a year.
But even among the four Republicans, the Arkansas delegation split its votes, with Sen. John Boozman and Rep. Steve Womack voting for it, and Congressmen Tim Griffin and Rick Crawford against it.
"I am proud that we were able to come to an agreement to prevent the largest tax hike in American history. This bipartisan solution tackles the financial troubles our country is facing while avoiding tax increases for Arkansas families and small businesses," said Boozman, pointing out that the deal makes 90 percent of the Bush tax cuts permanent.
Making the tax cuts permanent is certainly a silver lining. It also makes permanent several others quirks in the tax law, such as the indexing of the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) — originally passed in 1982 in an attempt to prevent high-income taxpayers from using various exemptions and deductions to pay a low effective tax rate.
But Congress, which suffered from myopia even back in 1982, did not add an automatic inflationary adjustment to the rates, which meant Congress would wrangle annually over adjusting rates to prevent reverting back to 1982 levels before finally passing an "AMT patch."
At least the new deal will put a stop to some of that recurring nonsense.
But the bigger fight on the fiscal cliff was not the tax debate but the spending debate. For the most part, the tax compromise was easily predictable; they just split the difference on what Democrats and Republicans wanted to do.
The decision over what to do with the automatic spending was simply postponed by two months and now will occur about the same time the debt ceiling will be reached, which will add to the drama.
"While there are some positive aspects to the Senate version of the legislation, including the permanent extension of those tax cuts for most Americans, we must stop our out-of-control spending and piling more debt on the heads of our children and grandchildren," Griffin said in announcing opposition to the deal. "I have supported every single major bipartisan agreement proposed by the president, the Senate majority leader and House speaker since I was elected, but this one is a bridge too far."
Spending cuts are where the rubber meets the road in reducing the size of government. Unlike state government in Arkansas, where deficit spending is not allowed, the federal government has shown no apprehension to continue to borrow trillions.
While most politicians give lip service to reducing the deficit, their actions have proven they are ready and willing to continue to borrow when everyone knows it is not sustainable.
Both sides seem unwilling to tell people what everyone knows to be true – we can no longer afford to lower taxes and increase spending. Any common sense proposal usually results in criticism from both sides.
Congressman Crawford experienced that when he suggested a few months back a tax increase on incomes over $1 million in exchange for a balanced budget amendment. That idea is sounding a bit more palatable now after a tax hike on those with income over $400,000 with no spending cuts in sight.
Buckle up. Fiscal cliff round two is only a few weeks off, and this time it is the hard part.
Jason Tolbert is an accountant and conservative political blogger. His blog — The Tolbert Report — is linked at ArkansasNews.com. His e-mail is jason@TolbertReport.com.