Late Tuesday Jan. 1, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 257-167 on a Senate bill to pass legislation that would avoid the financial situation known as the “fiscal cliff” — a series of spending cuts and tax increases that was scheduled to take effect at the start of this year. The agreement was reached the day the fiscal cliff was supposed to be reached. It was very much an eleventh-hour compromise.
With the approval of the bill, taxes increased for married couples making more than $450,000 a year, and unmarried citizens making more than $400,000. These increases are reminiscent of the tax rates of the Clinton era.
Under the bill unemployment was also extended, which helped 2 million out-of-work Americans, and tax credits for college tuition created by the 2009 stimulus package were also extended for five years, which aided 25 million low-income families. The House also approved to revoke the $900 congressional pay raise.
A major benefit point for students with the approval of the bill is the tax credit for college tuition extension. With tuition increases becoming commonplace, and the price of education rising as textbooks and materials become more expensive, this credit is a small nod to the plight of the student — a relief of sorts for many, especially the low-income families mentioned above.
Although the benefits we reap for this deal are important, the hysteria the deal has cultivated cannot be ignored. The fiscal cliff, and the possibility of reaching it, has been a talking point ever since the election.
People have been fretting over possible hikes in taxes and the next time a major deal needs to be made; there needs to be open negotiation and more visibility and public discussion to, “not scare the heck out of folks quite as much,” as President Barack Obama stated in the White House briefing room after the deal passed.
For Congress to take until the last possible moment to reach a resolution shows a major flaw in the legislative system of our nation. Party affiliated actions have too much power and too much prevalence within the system. Legislators don’t take what is best for the country into account anymore. Rather, they take what is best for their political party. A legislator’s job is to be a voice for their constituents, not of corporate sponsors or to garner political popularity and enjoy perks associated with it. Power and influence are dangerous things. Those who use it for themselves instead of others don’t deserve it. Sadly, in Washington, that doesn’t seem to be a widely held principle.
While it’s important to note that some individuals did cross party lines when voting on the deal, it’s also important to point out desperation was the main factor in the legislators doing so. Compromise was not made for the sake of fairness and a just resolution for all. Compromise was made to distance themselves from blame if things did not resolve in a timely manner. Fear motivated this compromise, not honor. Forced compromise is not compromise. Although the fiscal cliff was avoided, large problems and limits with the legislative system still need to be addressed if Congress is to serve its public adequately and fairly. And if they are unable to do this, their chief task, then their purpose is moot.