Think of it as one dreaded holiday dinner where several feuding members of your family are all seated around the same table: your cranky uncle, Bush-era tax cuts, are looking for an extension that will include tax breaks for the very wealthiest Americans; your somewhat unmotivated brother, unemployment insurance benefits, is also looking for an extension to keep a fiscal lifeline open to some two million Americans who are out of work; and the role of your impatient grandfather is played by the national deficit, trying to make sense of how all of these disparate political family members will make peace in time for the holidays. Welcome to the conundrum facing members of this lame-duck Congress as we approach the holiday recess, where unemployment benefits have already expired and tax cuts to all Americans are set to run out by December 31st—and all of these debates are taking place in the shadow of the federal debt commission that has recommended a painful fiscal reckoning. Can a reasonable deal be worked out in time to save everyone’s Christmas?
Linda J. Bilmes, Daniel Patrick Moynihan Senior Lecturer in Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University
Dean Baker, economist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research