My mom and I, generally the early risers of the family, were sitting at her kitchen table at about 7 a.m. Dec. 25 when we heard a beeping noise. After a little searching, we decided it was coming from beneath the Christmas tree inside a gift Dad had bought her.

Once we had Dad’s permission, we unwrapped the package to discover a radio with a CD player (yes, they still make those) and an alarm clock that somehow had been activated during shipping. Not knowing how to turn it off, I hit the snooze button to buy us some time.

"Just keep hitting the snooze button," I said, adding that the statement would make a good book title or headline.

"Yes, that’s what they’re going to do with the fiscal cliff," replied Mom, who is politically aware but not the type to offer too many opinions about such things. "They’re just going to push it off another six months."

Wise woman, that Mom.

How many times have we all been guilty of hitting the snooze button? When the alarm rings, we can get out of bed at the time we decided was best when we were clear-headed the previous night. Or we can make ourselves roll over and reset the alarm to give us more time. We’ll lose some productivity, but at least we’ll get some good sleep and start the day fresh.

But that’s not the choice we sometimes make. After engaging in a bitterly divided internal partisan debate – get up, or reset? – we roll over and hit the snooze button, sometimes again and again, so that we catnap for 15-30 minutes while being interrupted by those annoying alarm sounds. Meanwhile, our sleeping partner gets madder and madder.

As Mom was saying, what we’re seeing from Congress and the president, and what we’ll probably continue to see, is the equivalent of hitting the snooze button. Most people in Washington know that hard choices must be made, considering the government is borrowing 41 cents of every dollar it spends. And when it’s not time to make those hard choices, members of Congress and the president vaguely will say as much. But now that the alarm is ringing, they’re not prepared to get out of bed.

Because the economy is still shaky, many believe this is not a good time to bring the budget much closer to balance – a position I don’t quite agree with, but it fits into this metaphor. That being the case, Congress and the president could responsibly couple a down payment on the budget deficit with real, long-lasting solutions – in other words, reset the alarm and then actually get up when it rings that second time.

So far, that’s not happening, regardless of what happens with this year-end deadline. While the fiscal cliff does involve some painful tax increases and spending cuts, elected officials in Washington haven’t created a framework that leads to a balanced budget, nor is there a time line for doing so. They not only haven’t gotten out of bed, they don’t have a plan for getting out of bed. They just keep hitting the snooze button, going from debt ceiling debate to fiscal cliff crisis.

Meanwhile, the American people, and indeed the entire world, are wondering when the government is going to make that racket stop.

There’s always the fourth choice: Throw the alarm clock against the wall.

I hope that one doesn’t fit into this metaphor.


Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. His blog — Independent Arkansas — is linked at His e-mail address is