Why You Should Care About This Fiscal Cliff Stuff

The election may be over, but the fighting sure isn’t. While most of us are focused on the holidays and catching up with friends, family and DVR’d TV shows, Washington is focused on the fiscal cliff. What’s that, you say? Oh, it’s a completely unnecessary, arbitrary budgeting scenario the country is facing because many months ago, Congress couldn’t get its act together to raise the debt ceiling. Basically, a deal needs to be cut to slash spending and raise revenues, or a host of excruciating across-the-board cuts take place on January 1. Oh, and everyone’s taxes go up too.

Now, I know the conversations around the fiscal showdown can make your eyes glaze over, but there is actually a lot at stake for our communities if Congress and the President can’t come to some sort of resolution before the New Year. These are important facts that often get glossed over in the rush to cover who called whom, reading body language between President Obama and Boehner, and running silly countdown clocks.

To start, if we actually go over this cliff, the mandatory federal budget cuts would mean cuts to public sector jobs. These are jobs that are disproportionately held by African Americans and women. The average tax increase of $3,500 per household would put a great burden on many families, especially for the 16.7 percent of African Americans that are currently are living in poverty. And for middle-class families of color? On average they can expect a tax increase of $2,000 a year.

In addition to those hardships, programs that help the most vulnerable Americans would be up for cuts. Single mothers, who are disproportionately African American, rely on programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Program to put food on the table for their families. If a deal isn’t cut, these vital programs could stop servicing up to 450,000 people of color.

House Republicans are currently standing in the way of a tax cut for 98 percent of Americans. NINETY-EIGHT. The disagreement is over what to do with the Americans whose income is in the top 2 percent. If Republicans are telling the truth when they say they don’t want to raise taxes on the middle class, I have a simple solution: Pass the bill that doesn’t raise taxes on the middle class. The Senate already passed it and President Obama said he would sign it. But no, they’d rather dig their heels in to protect the wealthiest Americans at the expense of everyone else.

Look. Elections have consequences. The President has now run two elections saying he wanted to let the Bush tax cuts expire for the wealthiest Americans. And he was won twice, not to mention that all public opinion polling shows that Americans — Democrats AND Republicans — support letting those tax cuts expire. House Republicans, all safe in their extremely gerrymandered districts, seem to have taken away a different lesson from this election — that they should continue to fight for their extremely unpopular policy ideas.  But if they allow everyone’s taxes to go up on January 1, 2013, they might be taught another lesson — how to incur the anger of the American people.

So Republicans have a choice. Taxes on the wealthiest are going up one way or the other. They can choose to have it just be that 2 percent, or Republicans can cause millions of poor, working and middle-class families to see their taxes increase as well. It sure seems like a no-brainer to me. But…oh, it’s the holidays. I’ll just leave it at that.

Daniella Gibbs Léger, a former special assistant to President Obama, is the Vice President for American Values and New Communities at the Center for American Progress. Follow her on Twitter @dgibber123

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