The Fiscal Cliff

The discussions held between the parties on how to reduce expenses and/or increase revenue were not dealing with abstractions but with programs and services which have become a lifeline for people in an economic climate which is becoming increasingly difficult to navigate for many.

Unemployment remains high, so any attempt to increase revenue needed to be balanced with the need to preserve the viability of commercial and industrial interests in order to preserve jobs and hopefully create new ones. Services to specific populations were also in the balance: Medicare and Medicaid serve not only the older population but also many people living in the margins of American economy, whose numbers have been growing over the last few years. Tax cuts which were implemented many years ago were due to expire, but letting them expire would have affected the bottom line of many families, leading people to retrench in their spending and further hurting the economy. At the end, only a 2 % tax cut in Social Security expired, affecting the average worker to the extent of about $ 1,300 a year. May not sound like much to some, but it is a lot for many people. Yet the alternative was worse, since we know the precarious financial situation of Social Security benefits.

I find two things that I believe need to be highlighted. The first, is that legislators should always keep in mind that the discussions they hold in situations such as this are not about abstractions or politics - they are about people. Every service that is cut affects people, and while sometimes there might not be any other alternative, seeking alternatives is what we, voters, expect from our elected officials. It reminds me of a saying from Pirkei Avot: "If somebody tells you that they searched for something and they didn't find it, don't believe them. If they tell you that they found something without searching for it, don't believe them. If they tell you they found what they were looking for...Believe it!"

Our elected officials did find a compromise to avoid the worst consequences of out current situation for the average citizen, but the question needs to be asked "How did we get here"? This situation is not the consequence of one or two has been brewing for decades, and with each new "crisis" along the way we kept walking deeper and deeper into the hole. While in the short run the fiscal cliff has been avoided, it is easy to believe that the same scenario will be repeated twelve months from now...The safety net for populations at risk can again be targeted for cuts; if the money is not there to fund the programs, Congress might not have a choice but to cut the programs, leaving many people - quite literally - out in the cold.

We need to start looking at the issues early; we need to pay attention to what the government is spending and demanding that wasteful spending be reduced. We also need to look at what people are contributing to the revenue of the State, and how we can distribute the financial burden in a more equitable way.

The bottom line is that both, reducing expenses and increasing revenue are necessary to bring the economy back to a healthy situation. We just need to keep in mind that the adjustments should not come at the expense of the most vulnerable among us...


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