Analysis: "Fiscal cliff" deal called a dud on deficit front

Tue Jan 1, 2013 7:05pm EST
 

By Kim Dixon

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In the controversy surrounding the "fiscal cliff" issue, it's easy to forget that the origin of the entire debate was a professed desire to reduce swollen federal deficits.

Whether the target was $4 trillion over 10 years, as proposed by the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction commission, or in the $2 trillion range, as tossed around by House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner and President Barack Obama, the idea was to rein in total debt that now tops $16 trillion.

By those standards, the bill passed by the U.S. Senate early on New Year's Day to avoid the cliff's automatic steep tax hikes and across-the-board spending cuts, looks paltry indeed.

The legislation, which as of Tuesday evening had yet to be passed by the House, would add nearly $4 trillion to federal deficits over a decade compared to the debt reduction envisioned in the extreme scenario of the cliff, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

This is largely because it extends low income tax rates for nearly every American except the relative handful above the $400,000 threshold.

It's also because it put off for at least two months the automatic budget cuts that were part of the cliff and would have saved about $109 billion in federal spending on defense and non-defense programs alike.

The Senate bill, which ultimately came down to a fight about tax equity rather than federal spending, did to deficit reduction what Obama and congressional leaders always promise to resist: It "kicked the can down the road" to a later date.

In explaining the measure to the news media, the White House, which helped broker it, gave no particular figure for how much it would bring down the deficit, stating only that, somehow, "with a strengthening economy," it would.   Continued...

 
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) arrives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington January 1, 2013. The Senate moved the U.S. economy back from the edge of a "fiscal cliff" on Tuesday, voting to avoid imminent tax hikes and spending cuts in a bipartisan deal that could still face stiff challenges in the House of Representatives. REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert