Washington, D.C., seems to be a city that is in perpetual crisis. Now the U.S. government is in conniptions over the “fiscal cliff.” Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke coined that metaphor to describe the tax increases and automatic spending cuts that kick in on January 2 unless Democrats and Republicans somehow tame the $16 trillion national debt.
The current crisis has been two years running. It started with the great debt-ceiling debate of 2011, which led to the Budget Control Act. The budget law added to the popular lexicon “sequestration,” the term for automatic budget cuts. Sequestration led to the creation of the bipartisan congressional “supercommittee,” which failed to prevent—sequestration. Now the automatic cuts are flowing together with expiring Bush-era tax cuts and other cost increases toward the fiscal cliff.
Democrats demand that wealthier Americans pay higher taxes. That is the toll they will exact to steer clear of the cliff. Republicans insist that the cost of federal entitlement programs—Medicare and Social Security—must be reined in. Avoiding the cliff will most likely involve both approaches. “If this were a business negotiation, it seems like we’d be making a lot more progress,” Northrop Grumman CEO Wes Bush observed recently. “On one side we have folks saying there’s no way we’re going to go for [tax] revenue unless there’s entitlement reform. And then the other side [is saying] there’s no way we’re going to go for entitlement reform unless there’s revenue. Therein lies a deal.” Eureka!
It’s always amusing to this resident when “Washington” is demonized as a corrupt and dysfunctional place, like Brussels is to Europeans. The upside: maybe the city’s reputation will prevent the masses from discovering that my leafy enclave near the National Cathedral is a great place to live. How fortunate it is to reside in a major city and yet be far from the maddening crowd. In fact, the Washington the rest of the country loves to scorn is a mile-and-a-half stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue between Capitol Hill and the White House, and a few blocks on either side where the big federal bureaucracies are located.
Of course, the D.C. city government has its own checkered past. Now Mayor Vincent Gray is under a cloud of suspicion for allegedly running an off-the-books “shadow” campaign to win his office. Separately, a former city council member has been jailed for embezzlement and the former council chairman is serving home detention for bank fraud. And there’s the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which runs Washington Reagan and Dulles International airports. Come to find out, it’s riddled with nepotism, cronyism and extravagant spending. Never mind.