Rich Galen

The election wasn't over for 48 hours before both sides started laying down their opening bids on dealing with what has become known as the "fiscal cliff."

At its core, the "fiscal cliff" (and I'm going to stop putting it within quotes from here on) is the result of the Congress and the President (to use another phrase I wish I could excise from the political lexicon) "kicking the can down the road."

Unwilling and/or unable to come to agreements on a number of issues, both sides have continued to offer really tough-sounding, but temporary solutions, which have more-or-less amounted to "We'll deal with that when we get there."

We're there.

The fiscal cliff exists because the road down which we have been kicking that can has come to an end. At the end of the road is the fiscal cliff.

Members of the House and Senate are paid a pretty decent salary to examine the issues, help design solutions, and cast votes to turn ideas into law.

They hate doing that.

So, with the White House as a full partner, they have designed automatic triggers that they can later say "We had no control over [INSERT DIFFICULT ISSUE HERE] because of a trigger they themselves had installed.

The best known example is the Congress insisting they have no say over which military bases will close because decades ago the Congress decided to hand that duty over to an independent commission rather than have to face their constituents and say "I voted to close our military base because it didn't make any sense to keep it open."

Instead, they voted to not have to vote on base closures so they could later claim they had no vote in the matter (other than an up-or-down vote on the entire package of closures and realignments).

Are you getting all this?

The Congress could change that tomorrow, but there's this can and this road and they have all these highly paid feet doing all that kicking.

Same with the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform - better known as the Simpson-Bowles Commission for it's co-chairs, Sen. Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles.

Unlike the Base Closing Commissions, Simpson-Bowles was just a creature of the Executive Branch. Nevertheless, there was an informal agreement that if a super majority (14) of the 18 members voted to accept the package of tax increases and spending cuts then the Congress would adopt it, or at least take up the elements with a view toward adoption.

But, there was nothing that required either Chamber to even discuss the report that came out of the Commission, much less turn it into public law.

Rich Galen

Rich Galen has been a press secretary to Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich. Rich Galen currently works as a journalist and writes at