Fat chance for fiscal plan

Today is the one-year anniversary of the Budget Control Act, clean words for last year’s nauseating debt deal both parties supported in order to stave off default, raise the debt ceiling and punt all tough decisions to a much later date. Unsurprisingly, the congressional “supercommittee” the deal created to make those decisions did not. So with those decisions now staring Congress in the face this December, members of Congress are asking President Obama for “leadership.”

Don’t hold your breath. Neither Obama nor his rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, will touch the subject. If it is not reversed, the fiscal cliff of New Year’s Eve — when numerous tax cuts expire, including all of the Bush tax cuts, as $1.2 trillion is cut from domestic and defense spending — will send the economy into a tailspin, cutting GDP by nearly 4 percentage points. The crisis is as urgent as any Congress could face, and was of course preventable, but neither party wants to tackle it until after the election. It has slowed growth to a crawl, new economic data prove, as businesses delay hiring to hedge against the possibility of higher tax rates.

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If only the “Congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction” had just figured out how to agree on the infamous “grand bargain” that eluded President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), the Gang of Six, the Gang of 12 and many other ambitious lawmakers. But the 12 members tasked with being “super” couldn’t pull it off, prompting the $1.2 trillion “trigger” designed to be so scary it would force a compromise. Oh, well — everyone who voted for the Budget Control Act of 2011 knew the across-the-board cuts known as “sequestration” could conveniently be undone after the 2012 election, right before they happened in January  2013.

So with the fiscal cliff nearly here, it’s high time for some bipartisan hysteria. Republicans, backed by comments Defense Secretary Leon Panetta made about the damaging effects of the proposed $500 billion in Pentagon cuts, argue the reductions in military spending threaten national security and must be stopped. With each party drafting tax-cut extension bills that don’t match because Democrats won’t extend them to the wealthy, everyone acknowledges neither bill would ever make it to the president’s desk for signature, period. Hearings are held, because you always need hearings. And the House voted 414-2 to pass the Sequestration Transparency Act last week, which then passed the Senate by unanimous consent. It requires the Obama administration to submit to Congress within 30 days a detailed plan for how the across-the-board cuts would be implemented.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who voted for the budget deal last summer, has now accused Obama of being MIA in a crisis that requires presidential leadership. “No matter who or what was responsible, the president of the United States is commander in chief. He’s the only one,” McCain said on Fox News.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said the president agrees the defense cuts are too deep and that the non-defense cuts are too deep as well, but said, “Republicans would allow those to go into place, rather than ask millionaires and billionaires to pay a little bit more. That’s unacceptable as far as the president’s concerned.”

In an editorial in The Washington Post, titled “Playing Chicken With Defense,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), who also voted for the trigger, now insists there are “spending cuts and reforms that can attract bipartisan support” to replace the cuts and “there is no reason why such a compromise can’t be reached in September or October.” McKeon makes it sound easy. But, he warned, “the commander in chief must act.”

Fat chance.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.