The Fiscal Cliff Is Like Y2K

Ken AshfordEconomy & Jobs & DeficitLeave a Comment

I just want to congratulate Ryan Grim for writing the story that should be on the front page of every newspaper in the country but isn't:

On Jan. 1, 2000, the world awoke to find that little had changed since the night before. After years of hype around what was then called Y2K — the fear that computer systems across the globe would collapse, unable to handle the year shifting from '99 to '00 — the date change turned out to be a momentous non-event.

Next week, the United States is in for much the same, after months of frantic hype about the economic disruption that awaits if Congress and the president fail to reach a deal and the federal government goes "over the fiscal cliff."

The so-called fiscal cliff is a combination of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1. But the agencies responsible for implementing those changes, including the IRS and the Pentagon, are well aware that congressional and White House negotiators will most likely come to some sort of deal within weeks or months — and so they are planning to carry on as usual, according to a broad review of private and public government plans.

In other words, there will be no cliff. There won't even be a slope. Congress and the president can have their public and private dramas, but the government officials responsible for carrying out their eventual orders have seen this movie before, and they know how it ends.

He goes on to write about a number of agencies who have sent out memos saying they -plan to do … nothing.

Much like government workers, for the vast majority of the population, life on the other side of the cliff will be no different than life on this side. Those most likely to get hit, however, are the jobless, who would see unemployment benefits cut off. (They would be eligible for back benefits once a deal is cut.)

The most substantial fiscal cliff pain, then, will likely be felt by House Republicans. Indiana Rep. Dan Burton, a strongly conservative Republican, laid out on Thursday what has increasingly become conventional wisdom across party lines.

"If we go over the fiscal cliff, the president just comes back and says, 'Okay, we're going to give tax cuts to everybody under $250,000.' Who's going to vote against that? Everybody'll vote for that. Everybody," Burton told reporters in the Capitol. "Because it will be just a fait accompli. You won't be voting on whether you're going to do away with a tax cut, you're going to be reimposing tax cuts for everybody under $250,000. So the Republicans are in an untenable situation."

I'll be glad when this kabuki theater is over.