Who is threatened by the Fiscal Cliff?

We’ve been hearing about the, so called, fiscal cliff for about a year and a half now. According to various reports the U.S. economy could fall into a recession if Congress does not act by midnight today. This clearly wasn’t important enough to cause our elected representatives to act to avoid the deadline they set for themselves more than a year ago. The combination of the extended amount of time available to anticipate the deadline and the potential threat associated with the failure to act makes me question the whole idea that this is a real problem.


When Congress set this deadline for themselves it was presented as a way to ensure future action to avoid dire consequences. As the deadline approached a great deal of press was devoted to talking about the potential impact on the economy if no action was taken. Some of the key points of the legislation Congress set in place will cause temporary tax cuts to expire and cuts to military and social programs. While the cuts to Social Security and Medicare are troubling, the military routinely receives funding in excess of their budget requests.


When the Bush tax cuts were originally written into law it was known the cost of the revenue cuts would go directly to the Federal deficit (Suskind, 2004). The tax cuts were set to expire at the end of 2010. These tax cuts have already cost the taxpayers more than a trillion dollars and have been extended multiple times. Each time they are extended the cuts are presented as a way to save the taxpayers’ money rather than as an increase in the loan burden taxpayers are already carrying through the National debt. The temporary cut in Social Security revenue adds to the decades long practice of underfunding the program. It is important to note that everyone receiving Social Security retirement benefits in the coming years was alive in 1960; this is not a new problem. Given the fact that wages for the 99 percent have been flat for more than 40 years and that corporations continue to make record profits, it is unclear who is included in the economy that is potentially threatened by going over the “fiscal cliff.”


The biggest potential threat to going over the fiscal cliff may be that Congress will be exposed to a level of accountability they have not needed to address in recent years. While the cynical side of me expects Congress will simply roll over existing (flawed) legislation I would like to see the patchwork of temporary cuts and stopgap measures expire so Congress can address them directly.


The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O’Neill. Ron Suskind. 2004

The NRA response is a good starting point


On December 21st the National Rifle Association (NRA) held a press conference in response to the recent massacre at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut. The statement by the head of the NRA clearly reflected the interest of their stakeholders but it serves as a valuable starting point for an important discussion we need to have in this country. The major point of the NRA statement is a call for more guns as a deterrent to future gun violence. While some may be dismissive of the NRA’s position, it merits serious consideration.


Wayne LaPierr, of the NRA, acknowledged the massacre as a tragedy and went on to assert, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” He went on to say, “I call on Congress today to act immediately, to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every school — and to do it now, to make sure that blanket of safety is in place when our children return to school in January.” The two significant points here are the NRA’s acknowledgement that we need greater law enforcement protection if we are going to end gun violence and acknowledgement of gun violence as a national crisis.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2009), on average, more than 31 people die of firearm homicides each and every day. In addition to Sandy Hook the most recent firearm massacres have taken place in a shopping mall, a place of worship, and a movie theater. If we are going to truly protect ourselves the NRA’s proposal should be extended to any place where people gather


The massacres in public spaces only account for a fraction of the daily firearm homicides. Part of the discussion we need to have is to determine the acceptable number of firearm homicides we are willing to tolerate each day. We may need to post law enforcement officers on every block in areas of high gun concentrations.


An important feature of the NRA proposal is Congressional funding. Specific funding of the cost of protecting ourselves from gun violence would allow us as a nation to more clearly recognize the cost of firearm violence. Accounting for direct and indirect costs such as: law enforcement, courts, correctional systems, emergency medical services, etc. would make it much easier for us to prioritize the role of firearms in our culture.


As part of the NRA statement, LaPierr noted the lack of an “active national database of the mentally ill.” While this is a controversial statement, it is another good starting point for needed discussion. Documenting the intersection between firearms and dangerous people is critical to limiting gun violence. A comprehensive database that identifies every gun, every gun owner and every person associated with either would allow law enforcement officials, mental health professionals and the criminal justice system to immediately identify a potential bad guy with a gun and dispatch a good guy with a gun to stop them.


The suggestions presented by the NRA have far reaching budgetary and civil rights implications. Until we begin to openly talk about how much we are willing to give up in order for everyone who wants a gun to have a gun, we cannot begin to acknowledge the real cost of gun violence in America.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


2009 Firearm homicides 11,493 or more than 31 per day



Transcript of NRA statement: