Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Beware the fiscal cliff deniers

By John Avlon, CNN Contributor
December 4, 2012 -- Updated 1431 GMT (2231 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • John Avlon says a combination of tax increases, budget cuts could harm economy
  • He says the fiscal cliff is being minimized by partisans on left and the right
  • Newt Gingrich, Paul Krugman among those saying a deal to avert cliff isn't urgent
  • Avlon: This is the kind of extreme thinking that led the U.S. to lose its AAA credit rating

Editor's note: John Avlon is a CNN contributor and senior political columnist for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He is co-editor of the book "Deadline Artists: America's Greatest Newspaper Columns." He is a regular contributor to "Erin Burnett OutFront" and is a member of the OutFront Political Strike Team. For more political analysis, tune in to "Erin Burnett OutFront" at 7 ET weeknights.

(CNN) -- Washington is playing chicken with the fiscal cliff -- the combination of automatic tax hikes and deep spending cuts in 2013 that could plummet our recovering economy back into recession. Brinksmanship is back while the clock ticks.

Responsible voices in both parties say they don't want the country to go over the cliff, and Republicans have just offered their own outline of a plan to counter the president's opening bid. (Both sides have rejected those opening offers.)

There is danger ahead -- a growing chorus of ideological activists on both sides who insist there is no reason to fear going over the fiscal cliff, if the cliff exists at all.

John Avlon
John Avlon

Call them The Cliff-Deniers. Some say that there is no fiscal cliff, just a slope, perhaps suitable for sledding into the New Year. Others argue that plummeting over the side is preferable to an impure deal that compromises the views of their key constituencies.

It's déjà vu all over again. Listening to all-or-nothing advocates got us into this mess in the first place, leading directly to the loss of America's AAA credit rating. Listening to them again would be the definition of insanity -- doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result.

Opinion: GOP, break Grover Norquist's grip on you

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



On the right are folks such as Newt Gingrich, who penned an extended blogpost to that effect: "Every time you hear 'fiscal cliff,' just remember it is an artificial invention of the Left," he wrote -- "a mythical threat which can only be solved by Republicans surrendering their principles and abandoning their allies."

On the left are voices such as The New York Times' Paul Krugman who argued in a column called "Let's Not Make a Deal" that the president should "just say no, and go over the cliff if necessary" rather than what he characterizes as an economic "hostage-taking" approach to negotiation by the GOP.

"It's worth pointing out that the fiscal cliff isn't really a cliff," Krugman continued. "Nothing very bad will happen to the economy if agreement isn't reached until a few weeks or even a few months into 2013. So there's time to bargain. ... So stand your ground, Mr. President, and don't give in to threats. No deal is better than a bad deal."

Deal or no deal in Washington?
Republican deal rejected by W.H.

This created the odd spectacle of bloggers at RedState.com applauding Paul Krugman. True, they were careful to call him "both an inveterate liar and relentlessly wrong" before saying "in the main he is right" on this issue. "There is no Fiscal Cliff that demands action by a lame duck Congress. ... A deal against your own interests is not a deal, it is capitulation."

It's interesting how hyperpartisans can sometimes echo each other, if only because they share a vision of American politics that is intensely ideological, imagining a country deeply divided between liberals and conservatives. The problem with this vision is not just that it is unrepresentative of the moderate majority of Americans, but because the final cleansing ideological Armageddon they imagine never comes.

We need to find a way to govern again, but folks on the far left and far right are quick to cannibalize their own party members who work to constructively across the aisle.

Conservative activist groups such as Americans for Prosperity criticized the House Republican outline for ceding too much ground on tax revenues. Then there's the AARP, running ads that urge its members to "Tell Washington: We Can Do Better Than a Last-Minute Deal."

Opinion: A tax we could learn to love

The problem, of course, is that this is not a last-minute problem, but something predictable and self-inflicted. A failure to deal with the fiscal cliff is a failure of the political willingness to compromise. Everyone knows the outlines of a reasonable compromise: spending cuts, revenue increases and entitlement reform. A last-minute deal, at least a patch on the problem until more fundamental reforms can be achieved, is necessary.

Republicans rolled the dice when they walked away from the Obama-Boehner Grand Bargain in the summer of 2011. They lost. Obama won.

Yes, the White House can be faulted for its fixation on raising top rates in the name of fairness rather than national sacrifice to the goal of long-term economic stability. But CNN polls show that a clear majority of Americans back the Obama administration's plan rather than limiting deductions that could impact the middle class.

Republican Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma made the most sense when he said the GOP should make sure that lower tax rates don't expire on 98% of Americans at year's end. But in the current cult-like environment, Cole's common sense perspective was deemed traitorous.

In times of tough negotiation, it can be tempting to listen to the siren songs of hyperpartisans who promise that better things can be achieved through the power of no.

iReport: From my home to the House -- how to fix the fiscal cliff

But we have seen deficit reduction plans from Bowles-Simpson to the Gang of Six to the Grand Bargain to the Super-Committee fail because partisan absolutists said those balanced plans weren't good enough. That all-or-nothing approach is what has led us to this fiscal cliff.

These extreme voices aren't interested in reducing the deficit or debt. They are interested in either ruling or ruining. They are the problem in our politics, and they have completely misread the moderate mandate of the 2012 election. In this high-stakes negotiation, with America's economic recovery hanging in the balance, the cliff deniers are the ones who must be denied.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1619 GMT (0019 HKT)
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2235 GMT (0635 HKT)
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2208 GMT (0608 HKT)
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2207 GMT (0607 HKT)
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT