My favorite part of the slow news period between Christmas and the New Year is the Times’s daily countdown to fiscal armageddon. This morning, Harry Reid pretty much told us all to buy canned food. According to the Times, he spent much of his day on the Senate floor “excoriating” House Republicans for their refusal to consider a bill extending the Bush tax cuts on households that make less than $250,000 a year. Thus excoriated, the House stayed home. We are going over that cliff. Having imposed a future penalty no one wanted in order to force itself to come to agreement, Congress has argued its way into penalization. The legislative branch of the US government is like an addict who flushes his drugs down the toilet and then drowns.
This year will be our last Christmas, because the military programs that fund Santa Claus will be automatically cut in January 2013. That’s when the $1.2 trillion sequester of forced reductions in “defense and non-defense spending”—a weird epithet we have all agreed to use—will kick in as a result of the budget super committee’s failure to do dick about anything. Those spending cuts will coincide with the expiration of the Bush tax cuts to create a sort of economic compression pose known as the Fiscal Cliff. Ben Bernanke coined that expression. It’s his big accomplishment from last year. Meanwhile, businesses have delayed hiring and investment until they see what economic conditions will look like in 2013. The Republican and Democratic parties have agreed on two things this year. One, they will not talk about gun control no matter how many insane people shoot however many sane people. Two, going over the Fiscal Cliff would be bad. As we speak, Congress is working on a third agreement: to do nothing about it.
On Monday, Senator Jim DeMint (R–SC, net worth $40,000?) announced that he would personally place holds on all Senate legislation not submitted to his office by Tuesday night. Typically, the Senate passes several bills by unanimous consent in the days leading up to the October recess, which will begin at the close of business Friday. Citing concern for our federal deficit, DeMint’s office circulated a memo reading, “If there are any bills you would like cleared before we go out, please get them to the Steering Committee staff … by close-of-business on Tuesday.” The Steering Committee, of which DeMint is the chair, is a group of conservative Republicans that meets to discuss legislation but has no official authority over what comes to the floor. At least it didn’t, until DeMint realized that one man could use procedural rules to obstruct the Senate indefinitely. If that sounds unfair to you, you’re not alone. “Who’s running the Senate, Minority Leader McConnell or King DeMint?” said a spokesman for Harry Reid’s office.