Before we get started with the column proper, let’s take a moment to explore the very term itself — “fiscal cliff.”
The euphemistic neologism had bounced around in various forms in the past few years — almost always in connection with the tax cuts enacted by President George W. Bush — but the phrase took on its current usage in February. On a cold winter day, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke (originally a Bush appointee) told a House committee that America would tumble off “a massive fiscal cliff of large spending cuts and tax increases” if Congress didn’t cancel the package.
The phrase was, of course, immediately adopted by the left. Think of the horror! America careens off a “fiscal cliff” — like Thelma and Louise flying into the canyon — if Congress (gasp!) lets taxes rise and (heaven forbid!) allows spending cuts to take effect. Imagine, they said, if the United States were suddenly forced to make an effort to balance its budget — if suddenly the country couldn’t spend $3.6 trillion when it takes in only $2.5 trillion?! The horror!
Not surprisingly, the blunderbusses in the Republican Party simply started parroting the phrase. House leaders use it; so do top GOP senators. And so does Fox News, for that matter. Although the package of spending cuts and the (long-planned) expiration of the Bush tax cuts also includes setting the Alternative Minimum Tax threshold back to levels in the year 2000 and ending ever-growing federal unemployment benefits, the GOP adopted the identical language of Democrats — it’s a cliff, and America must slam on the brakes, quickly.