The Fiscal Cliff: Congress' Imminent Armageddon
It's "a life threatening problem," a "crisis," the "single greatest long-term threat to [business'] ability to compete the global marketplace" that risks "squandering a legacy of over 200 years," making America go "broke" and slamming "the breaks on the global economy."
The way debt reduction experts, advocates and former lawmakers describe it, stepping off the fiscal cliff that looms at the end of this year - when a cocktail of expiring tax cuts and automatic spending cuts will strap taxpayers with a $600 billion bill in 2013 - is like stepping into the final scene of Armageddon. Except Bruce Willis never volunteers to blow up the asteroid.
"If we do nothing and barrel through this fiscal cliff at the end of the year, we are going to have about $7 trillion hit this country right in the gut," said Erskine Bowles, who along with former Sen. Alan Simpson devised a debt reduction plan last year to prevent this doomsday scenario.
Congress has five and a half months to scrape together a plan that will appease the no-new-revenues Republicans and the don't-touch-entitlements Democrats in order to prevent nearly 50 tax cuts from expiring and $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts from being slapped largely on the Defense Department on Jan. 1, 2013.
"That is crazy because the effect of that would be somewhere between 1 and 2 percent of GDP and that is enough to put our country back into a recession," Bowles said at a press conference announcing a new campaign to raise awareness of the imminent taxmageddon . "That we cannot have."
But with a polarizing presidential election planted two months before D-Day, it is about as likely that Congress will pass and the president will sign a sweeping debt reduction deal before November as it was that Bruce Willis would make it off of that Armageddon asteroid alive.
"It looks like politics is going to override common sense and nothing is probably going to happen until after the election," Bowles said. "If the members of Congress just start getting ready and just start doing their homework then, that's too late."
That is why Bowles, along with a group of debt reduction experts, former lawmakers, non-profit leaders and Fortune 500 companies CEOs, today launched the Fix the Debt campaign, which aims to galvanize public support for a comprehensive debt reduction plan.
"We are trying to do some homework because the homework is not being done in the Congress today," Bowles told ABC News after the announcement. "We are trying to bring together a bipartisan group of people so they can act when they're ready. So when the time is ready they can go to work."
The group hopes to collect 10 million signatures in an online petition in support of reducing the deficit by at least $4 trillion and present Congress with the best of the many debt-reduction commission's plans, including pieces from the Bowles-Simpson plan, the authors of which founded the Fix the Debt campaign.
"Everyone knows in their hearts and in their minds what has to be done," said former Pennsylvania Sen. Edward Rendell, co-chair of Fix the Debt. "It's just finding the political will to get it done. We believe that's our job, to infuse Washington with political will."