The Fiscal Cliff Hangover Part I: The Senate

David Williams

January 1, 2013

Many people are accustomed to waking up on January 1 with a headache.  This year taxpayers woke up to not only the usual headache from a night of excess, but also a headache from the excesses of Congress and the President.  In the early morning hours of today (January 1, 2013) the Senate passed a bill to soften the blow of going over the fiscal cliff.  In reality, the bill may do more harm than good.  The bill extends the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts for individuals making less than $400,000 and families making less than $450,000. In addition, the payroll tax cute will expire meaning that payroll taxes will increase from 4.2 percent to 6.2 percent, a real tax increase on the Middle Class.  The real kick in the wallet is a two-month delay in the automatic spending cuts (sequestration).  As reported by, “According to the Congressional Budget Office, the last-minute fiscal cliff deal reached by congressional leaders and President Barack Obama cuts only $15 billion in spending while increasing tax revenues by $620 billion—a 41:1 ratio of tax increases to spending cuts.”  UPDATE (3:00 pm):  The Congressional Budget Office has pegged the spending cuts at $25 billion. Click here here for a full list of provisions as reported by Politico.

With a $1 trillion deficit and a debt that has eclipsed $16 trillion, the lack of spending cuts is shameful.  Even if all the revenue is used for deficit reduction (which it likely won’t be), the total impact to the $1.1 trillion deficit will be $64.5 billion (if no more spending cuts are approved and the sequestration is avoided).

This isn’t the first time Congress has punted on spending cuts. When the country went through the now-infamous debt ceiling debate in 2011 Congress did the same.  Congress and the President agreed on a deal that included a preliminary round of spending cuts and the creation of the Super Committee to come up with $1.2 trillion in additional reductions.

The first round of spending cuts were nothing more than window dressing.  Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute warned of fake spending cuts in the deal to raise the debt ceiling in an August 1, 2011 blog posting, “The ‘cuts’ in the deal are only cuts from the CBO ‘baseline,’ which is a Washington construct of ever-rising spending. And even these ‘cuts’ from the baseline include $156 billion of interest savings, which are imaginary because the underlying cuts are imaginary.  No program or agency terminations are identified in the deal. None of the vast armada of federal subsidies are targeted for elimination.”

As part of those “initial spending cuts there was the creation of the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction (aka the “Super Committee”) to come up with an additional $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction.  The Super Committee declared failure and disbanded, leaving the country on the precipice of the fiscal cliff.

The House of Representatives has yet to vote on the legislation and leaders of the House should insist on deeper spending cuts and no tax increases.