Skip to main content

The term "fiscal cliff" is a one-sided propaganda phrase that misinforms and triggers public fear and anxiety.  The fiscal cliff is not a "cliff" and the country isn't going to fall off anything at the end of the year.  Journalists: don't help the misinformers -- don't say or write "fiscal cliff."  Congress: when people are scared and misinformed our Congress should pause, step back and help inform us instead of rushing to take advantage of the fear.

What The Fiscal Cliff Is

At the end of the year the Bush tax cuts expire and several budget cuts start to phase in (including military spending cuts.)  This reduces the deficit, and some of those cuts will slow the economy if nothing is done to restore them in the next several months.  That is the "fiscal cliff" that you are hearing so much about.  Except it isn't a cliff, it kicks in gradually, Congress has a lot of time to work it out and can fix anything that is a problem.

That's right, if nothing is done in the next several months -- there is no "cliff" at the end of the year -- some of those cuts will slow the economy.  All the screaming and hysteria are about putting pressure on the "lame duck" Congress to do something in a big hurry, outside of the accountability of democracy and before the President and progressives have more leverage.

What The Fiscal Cliff Is NOT

Most people I talked to over Thanksgiving apparently think the "fiscal cliff" is the government runs out of money on December 31 because the deficit is so big and all kinds of terrible things happen on January 1.  This is sort of the opposite of what is going on.  Even the few who didn't think it was about the country running out of money were misinformed in one way or another, with most thinking something terrible happens January 1.  

The "fiscal cliff" is about taxes going up and budget cuts, which reduce the deficit.  And absolutely nothing in anyone's life will change on January 1, or for some time (weeks, months) after.

That's right, all the people who were hysterically screaming about the deficit are hysterically screaming now because of deficit cuts.  Go figure.  But the reason is that they have an agenda.

Journalists Should Not Help Misinform And Scare People

The very term "fiscal cliff" misinforms and scares people.  Some media outlets, like FOX News, exist to misinform and scare people.  But responsible media outlets should try to help the public understand complicated issues, not help scare and misinform.  

Any journalist using the propaganda phrase "fiscal cliff" is taking the side of misinforming and scaring.

Settle Down, Beavis

Everyone should settle down.  There is no "cliff."  No one is going to fall off of anything.  And after the first of the year the President and progressives have much more leverage in this fight than they do now -- hence all the pressure to act before then.

When people are this misinformed and scared the Congress owes it to the public to stop, take a break, work to inform the public and not act in a panic.  Journalists, especially, owe it to the public to inform, not misinform and scare.

Update - I wrote this and went to bed. I wake up, and there is a perfect example in the Monday NY Times titled, Debt Reckoning, The Fiscal Deadline In Washington.  The write-up in the morning NYTimes email is "The New York Times is beginning a new online feature that will chronicle the talks on the fiscal cliff between President Obama and Congressional leaders."

The clear message of this headline and summary is that the country is in crisis because of debt. The public cannot help but get the impression that the country goes broke in a few weeks. As I explained above (and as Paul Krugman explains today's in Fighting Fiscal Phantoms) this is really the opposite of what is happening.


This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture.  I am a Fellow with CAF.

Sign up here for the CAF daily summary

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Thank You (7+ / 0-)

    Very much.

    The "fiscal cliff" is an invention of people and organizations with an agenda -- which is to cut social programs whose popular support is so strong that the public will never accept a change to them unless they are convinced that an immediate crisis is at hand.

    The reality is that we have a parliamentary challenge that can -- and would otherwise -- be solved by fairly conventional budget negotations between parties.

    Calling this a "fiscal cliff" gives both sides the cover required to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

    "I'll believe that corporations are people when I see Rick Perry execute one."

    by bink on Mon Nov 26, 2012 at 10:45:32 AM PST

  •  On a similar note... (0+ / 0-)

    if anyone mentions a "physical cliff,"  I give you all permission to disregard all of their opinions.

  •  The Debt Ceiling Dare was the real Cliff (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    limpidglass, AllanTBG, kurt

    Remind your Republican or just generally-misinformed friends of this.  Explain to them that GOP lawmakers were threatening to create an instant and unstoppable financial meltdown of our entire economy for the sake of a cheap political stunt.  But that little game of chicken was treated as clever gamesmanship, while this situation is suddenly the MOST. SERIOUS. CRISIS. EVER. FACED.

    This is what Naomi Klein calls "disaster capitalism" in spades:  create a fake crisis and then use it as a pretext to get the GOP holy quad of tax cuts, entitlement cuts, deregulation and military spending.

    Dulce bellum inexpertis [War is sweet only to those who have no experience of it].

    by Fatherflot on Mon Nov 26, 2012 at 10:51:04 AM PST

    •  even the debt ceiling dare wasn't a real crisis (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      As many commentators noted, Obama could simply have ordered the minting of a trillion dollar coin to put an end to the "crisis", which was completely manufactured, given that the debt ceiling had been routinely raised before many times, without a peep.

      He didn't do so because he wanted the eventual outcome, which consisted of a huge package of budget cuts. That package is now being used as an excuse to enact even more cuts, including cuts they couldn't manage to enact in Obama's first term. Namely, those to Social Security and Medicare.

      Obama wants to cut. He says he wants to cut more sensibly than the GOP, but he usually ends up conceding them the majority of what they want, anyway.

      We're getting cuts and no stimulus. This is the brave new age of austerity, everywhere.

      "In America, the law is king." --Thomas Paine

      by limpidglass on Mon Nov 26, 2012 at 11:03:01 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  That May Be So (0+ / 0-)

        There may have been some kind of administrative legerdemain that the president could have done to avert the real disaster and it would have been justified.

        Still, even the threat of this by one of the two governing parties of this nation is astounding.

        I consider the resort to that threat a kind of crisis in itself, even if there were executive measures available to deal with it.  It would have been another dramatic step closer to a constitutional crisis.

        Dulce bellum inexpertis [War is sweet only to those who have no experience of it].

        by Fatherflot on Mon Nov 26, 2012 at 12:09:07 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  what "fiscal cliff" has, that "debt ceiling" (0+ / 0-)

    didn't, is that catchy assonance.

    Just repeat it out loud a couple times. It'll meme-etically worm itself into your brain. And you'll find yourself muttering "fiscal cliff, fiscal cliff" at random moments of the day.

    In other words, it's an advertising jingle. The product being sold, as is so often the case, is fear.

    The goal? To stampede the public into agreeing to a Grand Bargain that cuts SS/Medicare before they know what hit 'em.

    Lest anyone think that elections actually mean a change in policy, we will get Paul Ryan's economic policies even though the country voted to reelect the incumbent president.

    The newly reelected president will throw his weight behind a bipartisan compromise that slashes the safety net in order to appease the Republicans. His followers will follow him unquestioningly, and the rest of us will be too divided and dismayed to resist.

    "In America, the law is king." --Thomas Paine

    by limpidglass on Mon Nov 26, 2012 at 10:52:38 AM PST

    •  I Like "Fiscal Bluff" (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Besides the obvious; "to deceive by a display of strength, self confidence or the like", a bluff is also a hill with a broad, steep face, as along a coastline.
      Not something you'd want to hurtle off at top speed, but navigable if one is careful and skilled.

      Tax the rich a tiny bit more already.

      R-Money/R-Ayn, the ENRON Ticket, is not a campaign; it's a hostile takeover bid. UPDATE: a failed takeover bid

      by kamarvt on Mon Nov 26, 2012 at 03:12:02 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Well, most people will notice (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    in their paychecks after January 1 -- their payroll taxes will go up, and their federal income tax withholding will go up after January 1.  If you reversed that some time during 2013, those families would likely have to wait until spring of 2014, when they file their 2013 returns, to get that money back.  

    In addition, many, many families UNDER $250,000 -- even two income families of $75,000 -- could owe several thousand dollars in additional federal income taxes this coming spring, no later than April 15 of 2013 (for their 2012 taxes), due to the expiration of the AMT. The IRS has said that even if you retroactively reverse this in the spring, people will still have to pay it by April 15, 2013, and wait months to get that refunded.  

    And of course, the contraction of the economy will start as soon as it's clear that they won't reach a deal on this December.  Once you slide into recession, you can't turn the economy around on a dime even if you can get the House Republicans to suddenly completely cave in and give the Democrats everything they want (which of course will not happen).

    Most importantly, if Congress doesn't broker a deal before by the end of this year, what makes everybody so confident that the Republicans will completely change their bargaining position after January 1?  Either before January 1 or after January 1, everybody knows that the bottom line is going to be the same:  revenue increases on the rich (probably rate increases on incomes above $1 million since you don't lose much revenue if you raise it to $1 million) and spending cuts (including entitlement cuts) of $2.50 for every dollar of revenue increases, as the President campaigned on.  You can tinker with the details, but that's going to be the basic framework either before or after January 1.  If you eventually are going to get a deal, you might as well do it before January 1 and avoid the start of the downturn, which might be difficult to turn around later.  If you aren't going to deal on that kind of basis, then fine, we will face those tax increases for everybody, probably a significant increase in unemployment over the next year, and probably another recession.  

    •  After Jan 1 (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      the "facts on the ground" will be different precisely BECAUSE people will see the extra money coming out of their paychecks.

      So if Republicans try to block putting their taxes back where they were, the pressure from the public will be intense.  And the public will NOT want taxes cut on people making over $250K.

      Sometimes you need the theater before people can get it.

      Seeing The Forest -- Who is our economy FOR, anyway? Twitter: @dcjohnson

      by davej on Mon Nov 26, 2012 at 11:13:14 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  And Democrats will have to agree to (0+ / 0-)

        spending cuts in the range of $2.50 for every dollar of revenue increases -- which is exactly the "balanced approach" that the President has been pushing since the debt ceiling negotiations in 2011, and what he campaigned on.  

        My point is that the deal is going to be roughly the same either before or after January 1.  If Democrats agree to the President's "balanced" approach, and because the Tax Policy Center study I linked to gives everybody cover for starting the higher RATES at $1 million, I think you can get the deal before December 31.  But you won't get a deal without those $2.50 in spending cuts (that the President campaigned on) to go with the revenue increases, either before or after January 1.  That's not going to change.  

        •  Not sure why (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Armando, trumpeter

          would Dems "have to" agree to anything?

          Seeing The Forest -- Who is our economy FOR, anyway? Twitter: @dcjohnson

          by davej on Mon Nov 26, 2012 at 12:36:43 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  They only have to if they want a deal. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            nextstep, VClib

            They can certainly choose no deal and have all of the tax increases and spending cuts go into effect on January 1.  

            I think that it's becoming clear that the Republicans are going to compromise and agree to revenue increases in order to get the spending cuts they also want.  They have no incentive whatsoever to agree to the tax increases on the wealthy without the corresponding spending cuts the President campaigned on.  

            I don't think there's a snowball's chance in hell that the Republicans will agree, either before or after January 1, to just revenue increases.  

            So both sides have a choice:  (1) make a deal (i.e., give up something significant that we want, in order to get something significant that we want), or (2) all of the tax increases and spending cuts.  That choice isn't going to change after January 1.  Neither side is going to get a deal without compromising -- Republicans compromise on revenue, Democrats compromise on spending cuts.  Each side has two options:  (1) compromise or (2) the so-called "fiscal cliff."  Those two options don't change on January 1.

          •  dave, I don't think in the short term the Dems (0+ / 0-)

            will agree to anything, and neither will the Republicans, and we will go off the fiscal ramp on Jan 1. I don't think there will be a deal until there is a "grand bargain" and I think that will take six months after the new Congress is sworn in. Many here think the GOP will be under some enormous pressure to make a deal because rates on everyone will go up on January 1st. The next elections are two years away and I don't think the GOP won't be under any pressure at all to make a deal during the lame duck. I do think everyone will feel the pressure to do something before the August summer break in 2013.

            "let's talk about that"

            by VClib on Mon Nov 26, 2012 at 05:25:52 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for the info (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    (R's) take those tired memes and shove 'em, Denise Velez Oliver, 11/7/2012.

    by a2nite on Mon Nov 26, 2012 at 11:58:44 AM PST

  •  true. STOP using red team framing language!!! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Armando, trumpeter

    "Politics is like driving. To go backward put it in R. To go forward put it in D."
    Four More Years! How sweet it is!!!

    by TrueBlueMajority on Mon Nov 26, 2012 at 12:03:03 PM PST

  •  So your advice is (0+ / 0-)

    don't sweat it?

    And absolutely nothing in anyone's life will change on January 1, or for some time (weeks, months) after.
    "It" meaning this.

    It strikes be as both foolish and irresponsible to not provide (at some level beyond zero) for the increased taxes/fee/costs, based only on the expectation that the Federal government will ride to the rescue. They will not rescue everyone. To assume "nothing in anyone's life will change on January 1" is to take rosy scenario to a whole level.

  •  From what I've read the "fiscal cliff" terminology (0+ / 0-)

    was started by Bernake. I know he is a republican, but what's his agenda in all of this? Does he want the dismantlement of safety net programs? More money for his rich friends?

  •  Why do you use that term in your post? (0+ / 0-)

    Wall Street intends to fleece us using their hired hands in Congress.

    look for my eSci diary series Thursday evening.

    by FishOutofWater on Mon Nov 26, 2012 at 04:30:48 PM PST

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site