When a potentially deadly cancer is diagnosed, and chemotherapy can help, sane people opt for chemotherapy.
It may cause hair loss and nausea. It's likely you'll feel terrible, and drop weight. If you live in the right state, or have the right connections, you will be able to smoke pot, which ameliorates some symptoms and makes daytime television more entertaining, but it's still going to be a rough experience.
But imagine that your doctor said: "Chemotherapy is nasty. Skip it and take morphine instead. It won't cure your cancer, but you'll feel better in the short term than if you undertook radical therapy. You'll be doing fine, till you drop dead."
Odds are you'd seek out a more responsible physician.
That's where we are with the federal budget, and the "fiscal cliff," except we don't have any national leaders in the role of "more responsible physician."
Why fear going over the fiscal cliff, when it's the solution, not the problem. The choice is between actions that make things a bit better now, and terrible down the line, or ones that make things a bit worse now, and great later.
The national debt is $16 trillion. The deficit has been more than $1 trillion four years in row. The difference between what the government takes in and what it spends is a cancer.
But what our politicians are offering up as treatment are various flavors of morphine, because they don't think their citizen-patients can stomach the side effects of strong medicine.
On Jan. 1, barring a deal in Congress, federal tax rates will go back up to Clinton-era levels for everyone. We'll also see some cuts in government spending, and the end of the 2 percent payroll tax holiday, which undermined Social Security while not stimulating the economy much at all.
And the annual deficit will drop from 7.3 percent of gross domestic product to a relatively manageable 4 percent.
The changes would tamp down the economy. According to the Congressional Budget Office, growth, in the very short term, would decline. Unemployment could go from 7.9 percent to 9.1 percent, costing two million jobs. That's serious, in the same way that the vomiting, hair loss and general illness that accompany aggressive cancer treatment are serious. But it's a short-term problem, caused by undertaking a long-term solution.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, made this point last year during a speech in Washington, D.C., when he said, "Allow the Bush tax cuts to expire at the end of 2012, not just for high-income earners, as the president has proposed, but for all tax brackets."
Letting the cuts expire for only the wealthy, as Obama wants, only raises $700 billion over 10 years. Letting them expire for everyone, as no one but Mike and I want, raises $4 trillion. And increasing tax rates for no one, as Republicans want, does . . . nothing.
This can't be fixed via just spending cuts, because the real money is in Social Security, Medicare and defense. There is no possibility of really deep cuts in those programs.
If we leap off the fiscal cliff, the deficit becomes manageable. That will encourage growth and investment, and keep interest on the debt from swallowing all our taxes.
It's also fair. Letting rates rise only for families making more than $250,000 per year isn't. Every taxpayer has an obligation to pony up more to deal with a problem that threatens all of us. If the Clinton tax rates were unfairly nonprogressive, liberals wouldn't have passed them in the first place.
Letting these tax increases and spending cuts go into effect would cause real pain.
But we can't let the politicians sell us morphine when chemotherapy is the cure.