The United States faces an uncertain financial future. The recovering economy has not yet seen the kind of boost necessary to pick up the slack and prevent the nation from sinking in the event of a shock. This is a problem because a shock might be coming. In the eyes of many political pundits, we are headed towards a precipitous fiscal cliff.
The fiscal cliff invites violent images of falling to one’s death. Yet it is much less dramatic than that. The automatic raises in taxes and cuts in spending were put in place to appease creditors and to show that if the government cant get its act together, there would be something that could save America’s financial books from our own gridlock and polarized ideologies.
The term automatic is really meaningless in this case. Lawmakers can always get around things, nothing is written in stone and with the primary focus of the country resting firmly on increasing jobs, not eliminating the debt, there will always be something that can be done. The idea of a fiscal cliff is only real if the Democrats use it to affront the Republican agenda, the same way Republicans toyed with the idea of default to rattle the Democrats.
There is most certainly a debt problem in America. And at the core of the negotiations to find a solution is former vice presidential candidate and extreme conservative Paul Ryan, who arguably cost Mitt Romney Florida and couldn’t even carry his own state of Wisconsin. Ryan is known around the nation as the debt guy, who presented radical plans to level the budget. He is not very well known and not every widely liked, but at least he presented a plan. He is one of the few that have.
UNCERTAINTY ON THE HILL
Ryan might be known as the debt guy but — as we have written about countless times before — he has voted for nearly every single measure put in place by W Bush that created the debt problem that we face today. This glaring hypocrisy aside, he is a wild card. Being young, he is promising for the Tea Party movement. However, the Tea Party is probably dead as we know it. Whatever form their resurrection will take will probably mean meandering towards the center of the political spectrum, or else face losing again and again in coming elections.
The biggest question is how Ryan will play to the far right of America. He needs to balance his conservative credentials (based on his voting record, this is only in regards to social issues) and the practical needs of the country. Some of the Tea Party candidates, like Mourdock in Indiana, were able to unseat long-time Washington Insiders thanks to an anti-government agenda. But when they ran against Democrats, they lost. Could Ryan actually fall victim to a movement like this? He has been in Washington as an elected official since 1998. With the growing unease and unpopularity of Congress, Ryan might become a target of the very same movement that brought him almost to the Vice Presidency.
So Ryan must progress the budget talks while retaining a near-impossible level of conservative zeal, which normally means not compromising. If the nation hits the fiscal cliff, it will be his fault in the eyes of the entire country. If he softens his stance on the budget to accommodate a plausible solution, he will lose his luster among the far right, which could cost him his political future. The nation waits to see if pragmatism can right the nation’s finances and push Ryan towards a more sympathetic centrist position. If he does this correctly, he might be able to rely on socially-conservative centrist Republicans to keep his place in the GOP ranks. If not, he might not be re-elected come 2014.