President Obama is meeting with congressional leaders on Friday in an eleventh-hour attempt to avoid the fiscal cliff at the end of the year. If Democrats and Republicans fail to reach a deal, the Bush tax cuts for all Americans will expire and a slew of painful spending cuts — $1.2 trillion spread out over 10 years — will begin to take effect. Analysts warn that such an event, which has been more accurately described as an "austerity bomb," would likely cause the still-recovering economy to contract.
However, hopes that a deal can be reached are swiftly fading, which would give Congress the dubious honor of shooting the economy in the foot twice in the last two years for no compelling reason. (See: The debt ceiling debacle of 2011 that caused the U.S. to lose its sterling AAA credit rating.) In the near term, Americans can expect the following, according to J. Bradford DeLong at Project Syndicate:
The past two months' run-up to the austerity bomb's detonation has already reduced projected real GDP growth in 2013 from 3% to 2.5%, and has raised likely end-2013 unemployment from 7.5% to 7.7%. Each day from January 1 to June 30 that the damage continues will have a roughly linear impact on economic performance in 2013... If no deal is reached by June 30, America's likely 2013 real GDP growth rate will be -0.5%, with the likely unemployment rate returning to 8.9%.
In a bid to position themselves for the fallout, Republicans and Democrats are already blaming each other for the looming debacle. "Republicans bent over backwards," claimed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) "We wanted an agreement. But we had no takers." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) naturally disagreed, saying that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and McConnell have been "unwilling to negotiate."
So who will voters blame? It's true that Boehner couldn't even get his caucus to raise taxes on those making more than $1 million a year. Polls show that most Americans support Obama's proposal to raise taxes for households with an annual income of more than $250,000, and the Democratic-controlled Senate, led by Reid, has passed a bill extending the Bush tax cuts below the $250,000 threshold. It's no surprise then that "Obama's polling in the mid-50s in his handling of the fiscal-cliff situation," says Jonathan Allen at Politico. "Republicans are mired in the 20s."
However, the impact from the fiscal cliff could be broad enough that voters may become disgusted with the entire political class, including Democrats. As Aaron Blake at The Washington Post notes, "If Americans start to see the economy struggle and their taxes go up, there's going to be enough blame to go around, no matter what the polls say right now. And confidence in government as a whole could truly bottom out — if it hasn't already."
If the U.S. does indeed go over the cliff, the political fortunes of Democrats and Republicans may depend on which party can best sell a plan to contain the damage. And that may play to Obama's favor, who would likely move to restore the Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class, says David Frum at The Daily Beast:
Sometime early next week, perhaps Monday itself, the president will appear on TV to offer the "Obama tax cut": The fourth biggest tax cut in American history after the Reagan, Kennedy, and George W. Bush tax cuts.... How will the House Republicans react to that? That's the next question, and it will arise fast.