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Cliff Notes

Cory T. Wilson is a Madison attorney with the firm of Heidelberg Steinberger Colmer & Burrow. You can follow Cory on Twitter, @CoryWilsonMS or email cory@corywilson.ms.   
One gets the sense that, as we edge ever closer toward the “fiscal cliff,” much of the country would like to throw Washington off an actual cliff.
In a time when we seem rudderless, with an unserious president and a Congress that is bitterly divided, a Mississippi congressman’s words speak perceptively about the basic nature of the problem we face.
His clarity is worth considering at length:
“Today we are faced with . . . a crisis that threatens to destroy the fiscal foundation of the Republic.  We are on the brink of the precipice of national bankruptcy.  More and more thoughtful citizens throughout the country are realizing and fully appreciating the dangers ahead if this unbridled government spending is permitted to continue.  Today we, the representatives of the people, are given an opportunity to apply the brakes and thus make a further contribution toward reversing the trend in extravagant governmental spending.”
Refreshing that someone has pointed out that the “fiscal cliff” hysteria is merely a symptom of the real problem:
“. . . I have been alarmed for the past several years over the dismal picture presented of the country going deeper and deeper each year into the red while the federal government digs deeper and deeper into the pocket of the American taxpayers.”
And, our Congressman recognized that if things are to change, it is up to the House to change them.  Rebuking a president who asked for what is tantamount to “blank checks” for ever more spending, he said that “the solution to our financial problem and the responsibility therefor are strictly up to the Congress.  More than that it is up to this House to see that the dangerous trend is reversed.”
Amen.  He also crystalized why many conservatives oppose raising any tax rates in a weak economy:  “In fact, we have reached the saturation point in taxation. . . . [T]he incentive for businessmen to make money scarcely exists, while the day laborer and the middle class find it difficult to live under the high rate of their own taxes.”
The outcome of the fiscal cliff negotiations are significant, to put it mildly.  Raising taxes on job creators, on top of the Obamacare taxes already set to kick in after the New Year, is wrongheaded policy.  But no matter whether taxes stay the same, or are doubled across the board, the trajectory of government spending is the problem.  We cannot raise taxes high enough to close the deficit, and we cannot keep spending money we do not have.
To continue quoting from the same speech:
“America is at the cross-roads in its fiscal policy.  If we do not change that policy we become a bankrupt people.  If we destroy the faith and credit of the Government we lose everything, our economy, our standard of living, yes, even our cherished liberties.”
The Mississippi congressman who said all this?  Jackson County Democrat William M. Colmer, in a speech on March 19, 1952.
Sixty years ago, President Truman sought to spend $82 billion, with a deficit of $14 billion.  Truman just thought he was a big-spending liberal.  In today’s dollars, Truman’s spending request is about a quarter of Obama’s, and Truman’s deficit not even half of the 40 cents of every dollar we borrow today.
As it says in Ecclesiastes, “there is nothing new under the sun.”  And, liberal apologists may note that the country has not been ruined in the ensuing six decades of higher spending.  So, why worry now?  (So long as “the rich” pay more, of course.)
We are a lot closer to the end of the road than we were in 1952.  Mr. Colmer also captured the difference between conservatives and liberals.  Driving ever-faster toward the barricades of insolvency, House Republicans believe we best hit the brakes.  Obama Democrats think the answer is to stomp the gas.
Colmer yielded his time with a fitting admonition:  “If this country . . . is to survive our fiscal policy must be placed on a sound basis.  The time is now.  Next year may be too late.  Now is the time to place country above party.  In the name of the founding fathers who gave the country its birth, in the name of the untold thousands who have died to preserve it, in the name of free peoples everywhere, I beseech you to save the Nation from bankruptcy and thus perpetuate this, the most glorious form of free government ever conceived by the minds of men.”

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