Petty politics on substantial issues again? The fiscal cliff negotiations are down to the wire, and many news outlets report that the Senate is furiously working on a deal. The deal is actually more of a stopgap. It will probably extend the Bush tax cuts for all those making under $400,000. While the President wants this threshold lower, at $250,000, this is probably just negotiating positioning and his threat to put this to a vote and dare the GOP to oppose it is a way to get real leverage. Along with this tax deal, it appears as though the bill would fix the AMT system for another year, extend the “doc fix” for Medicare payments, and extend unemployment insurance. It most definitely will not change the cuts to the military or raise the debt ceiling. It also will not fundamentally address cuts or changes to Medicare or Social Security.
Is this deal a good thing? Well, politically, it is mostly a win for the Democrats as they get much of what they want. It is not a big, grand long term fix that the press intelligentsia or the very important people will love. David Brooks will probably not be thrilled, nor will The Economist. Will we be subjected to more weeks, months, and years of press coverage about our broken political system and dysfunctional democracy. Petty politics and the brokenness of Washington will be discussed ad nauseum.
I think this, though, is precisely what makes this a good thing. We are fundamentally debating the nature of our society, the size of our government, and what mix of social welfare and taxes we will have for the next half century. We are in the early stages of even beginning to realize what the discussion is all about. It is unrealistic to expect this conversation to be resolved in a matter of weeks, or for one or two elections to decide such questions. Other big debates in our history; from the nature of government at the turn of the 19th century, to slavery, to the modern regulatory system of business; all took decades to conclude. While it may be that we run out of time on these matters, particularly with health care costs rising, the closer we get to a more immediate crisis the more the politics around the issue will change and the greater chance there will be of a conclusion.
It is unreasonable to expect a true democracy of free people with fundamental and reasonable philosophical disagreements around massive issues to move quickly. American democracy is not broken, it is working just as one might expect.