From the fiscal cliff to the looming debt ceiling — when will the perils end?

Washington saved us all from the fiscal cliff just in time to throw us in the path of a looming debt ceiling. Think of being trapped in a room with floodwater rising, choking off the air supply. Unless someone comes along and raises the ceiling soon, you’re a goner.

It’s like some sort of weekly serial from your childhood, only the modern version of the Lone Ranger or whoever the superhero is supposed to be seems only half-hearted in his interest to save anyone.

Perhaps “Meh”-Man is his name.

We all long for someone to come along and rescue us completely from the rising water, shooting all the bad guys in the process. But people can’t be too picky in an emergency.

Seriously, folks, how long can this string of dramatic cliffhangers go on?

More to the point, how long until the public either tunes it out or completely loses faith in government?

Actually, both those things may already have happened. Realclearpolitcs.com shows Congress with an 18 percent approval rating, down from a post-election “high” of 23 percent.

In the short-term, this is a fight Republicans are likely to lose.

As this CNNMoney report notes, the time will quickly come when the nation will collect less each day than it owes in bills. On Feb. 15, there will be $9 billion coming in and $52 billion to pay.

But if you think Americans will throw a fit about the need to make budget cuts that day, consider that among those bills will be an estimated $6.8 billion in IRS refunds and $2.3 billion Medicare and Medicaid payments.

Hang onto people’s tax refunds for awhile and see what kind of mood they’re in.

Without raising the debt ceiling, the government eventually would be unable to cover Social Security checks. It might have to pick and choose which bond investors it pays. The Bipartisan Policy Center calls the results of such a situation, “chaotic.”

And Sandy was a windstorm.

In the long-term, of course, this will be just another skirmish in a never-ending slide toward Greece unless politicians of all stripes get deadly serious about finding real, systemic solutions.

Extending Bush-era tax cuts to all but the wealthy wasn’t such a solution. It didn’t stop runaway growth in entitlements or fix a complicated and cumbersome tax code. It didn’t match revenues with expenditures.

Until that happens, Washington will keep dishing up cliffs, ceilings, tsunamis, hailstorms or whatever else one intends to call the frequent flash points at which two competing and equally ineffective philosophies collide.

About the Author

Jay Evensen

Jay Evensen is the Senior Editorial Columnist for the Deseret News. He has 32 years of journalism experience covering politics and a variety of other assignments at news organizations ranging from United Press International in New York City to the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Deseret News, where he has worked since 1986. During that time, he has won numerous local, regional and national awards. Most recently, he was given the Cameron Duncan Media Award, given annually in Washington, D.C., by the advocacy group RESULTS, to the journalist judged to have done the most to further the cause of the world's poorest people.

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