The Fiscal Cliff and the Next 30 Days: History in Real Time

Category: Blog

Recession. Taxes. Social Security. Medicare. The debt and the deficit. The stakes are high and between now and the end of December, students have the rare opportunity to see differing views on the role of government in action. They can track a critical public policy turning point in real time.

The New York Times is starting an online feature that will make that easier to do. “Debt Reckoning: The Fiscal Deadline in Washington” will follow the talks between President Obama and Congressional leaders “over the so-called fiscal cliff.”

Making a timeline that goes back to the summer of 2011 and gets updated through December 31st would be one way of dramatizing and following the progression of events.

To track the meaning of the turning of events, students need a deeper framework. They need to know and to understand: What’s at stake? Who are the “players,”? What do they want, and how will they try and get it?

In addition to the two previous blog entries here, consider two additional New York Times articles for background. In explaining President Obama’s position, the first article describes the deep stakes of the negotiations:

  • economic growth or recession,
  • the role government should or should not play in providing health care and retirement security,
  • economic inequality and,
  • the debt and the deficit

The second provides a grid that includes:

  • the players — in addition to President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner (R), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D), and the majorities they represent
  • the topics of negotiation—taxes and entitlements
  • other factors of interest and/or importance, including—the 2010 Simpson Bowles Proposal, Representative Paul Ryan’s proposal and the “no tax” pledge taken by the majority of Republicans in Congress.
  1. 1. The Deep Stakes:

Taken from, “The Cliff Is a Hard Place to Compromise”

“If he can persuade the Republicans to increase taxes on the affluent and leave them low on the middle class and poor, he will take a step toward reducing economic inequality. Those tax increases, combined with more military cuts than Republicans favor, would also leave the federal government with money to spend on education, scientific research, clean energy, roads and mass transit, all of which Mr. Obama calls crucial to the economy of the future.”

  1. 2. The Grid:

“Staking Out Positions in the Fiscal Talks” (November 15, 2012)

Other good online resources:

From The Washington Post:

A set of slides,  “The Fiscal Cliff Explained in Charts”

From American Public Radio’s Marketplace, “The Fiscal Cliff Explained (with help from Hollywood)” (September 28, 2012)

In this 3-minute video clip, journalist Paddy Hirsch uses a whiteboard and the analogy of Thelma and Louise to explain the cliff.

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