Policy Documents

The Fiscal Cliff and the Perils of Grand Budget Deals

Patrick Louis Knudsen –
December 10, 2012

One of the major complications in the current fiscal cliff debate is that both sides are overreaching, trying to tie a near-term resolution to a sweeping deficit reduction plan that would address the longer-term budgetary crisis looming in the years ahead. They see the cliff negotiations as a stage for a “grand bargain” on the budget between the President and Congress. The tight time frame of the cliff’s approach makes such an aim increasingly impractical. Furthermore, history shows that broad bipartisan compromises between the White House and Congress have typically just yielded higher taxes, while the promised spending restraint (except in national defense) and deficit reduction have failed to materialize. Given the current state of divided government, these risks prevail today. More broadly, they also offer a warning to budget process reformers who seek to institutionalize regular budget negotiations between Capitol Hill and the President.