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Boychuk: Washington won't solve the real 'fiscal cliff'

The Capitol is seen on Capitol Hill in

The Capitol is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Dec. 27, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

Cowardice and calculation are the norm in Washington, D.C., today.

Compromise is long out of fashion. And memories are short. It’s a shame. But don’t blame conservative Republicans (leaving their feckless leaders aside) for doing exactly what they said what they would do.

Just how unserious is the “fiscal cliff” debate? So unserious that Obama can’t seem to remember how we got into this mess in the first place.

The president set the country on course for the cliff in 2011, when he rejected the congressional “supercommittee” proposal to cut federal spending. The president insisted on the “trigger” cuts that, left unaltered, will slash $500 billion from the Pentagon willy-nilly. The president has since rejected every deal Republicans have offered, including plans to raise federal revenues.

Republicans even made concessions on tax deductions — something Mitt Romney discussed in the presidential election campaign. All of a sudden, big benefits like the mortgage interest deduction are on the table.

None of that was enough for the president. He is just as ideologically wed to the idea of a tax rate hike as conservatives are unalterably opposed.

Funny thing, though: 18 months ago, Obama suggested he would accept what the Republicans are now offering. “And what I’ve also said to Republicans is, if you don’t like (raising tax rates), then I’m happy to work with you on tax reform that could potentially lower everybody’s rates and broaden the base,” the president said in July 2011.

Clearly, he was joking.

So what’s likely to happen if the country goes over the “cliff”? Congress will make retroactive fixes. Republicans won’t have to vote for a tax hike. Instead, they will vote to restore most of the tax breaks for Americans earning less than $250,000 a year. Probably some deductions will disappear.

Everyone will get a little of what they want, without addressing the real problem: a looming, $100 trillion wall of debt and unfunded entitlements.

That’s the cliff we’ll leave for our children to dive.

Ben Boychuk is associate editor of City Journal.