BEN BERNANKE, chairman of the Federal Reserve, contributed to our economic lexicon when testifying before the House Financial Services Committee in February. Referencing the expiration of the Bush tax cuts and a trillion dollars in automatic budget cuts (sequestration) scheduled for January 2013, Bernanke labeled the approaching economic precipice a fiscal cliff.
In December 2010, President Obama reluctantly agreed to a two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts heavily weighted toward the top 2 percent of Americans earning more than $250,000 a year.
Eight months later a contingent of far-right congressional Republicans, seemingly in control of the House of Representatives, refused to adopt a perfunctory yet essential piece of legislation increasing America's debt ceiling to avoid a national default.
Within hours of an economic meltdown Congress passed and President Obama signed the Budget Control Act of 2011. It increased the debt ceiling, adjusted the federal budget and created a Joint House-Senate committee to recommend further measures to reduce the deficit.
Because Congress and its super committee failed to reach agreement on additional debt reduction, the act now requires $1.2 trillion in automatic across-the-board budget cuts, with few exceptions, beginning in January 2013.
With these arbitrary cuts looming large and the Bush tax cuts again set to expire at the end of 2012, the cliff Bernanke spoke of becomes visible on the horizon.
To avoid the fiscal cliff, House Speaker John Boehner and his Republican colleagues must reach a broad economic agreement with President Obama to end these annual manufactured crises and soar above the chasm on a sane trajectory toward economic growth.
President Obama has made it clear he will not approve another extension of the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent. At the same time he is ready to sign a bill that extends these tax cuts for the 98 percent of Americans earning less than $250,000.
That legislation has passed the Senate and is collecting dust in the Republican-controlled House. More than 60 percent of Americans support the president's position on the tax cuts.
Republicans insist the tax cuts for the top 2 percent must be extended or they will not approve legislation extending the tax cuts for the other 98 percent of Americans.
House Republicans suggest that closing loopholes and deductions rather than increasing taxes on the top 2 percent will raise the additional revenue required. Few economists agree and no one has listed the loopholes and deductions to be eliminated.
Loopholes and deductions exist because they are popular and the White House is skeptical Congress will vote to eliminate enough to matter.
These are the opening salvos of two branches of government with 43 days to reach an agreement before everyone's taxes increase in January.
Should that happen, a Pew poll released last week indicated that only 29 percent of Americans believe it will be the president's fault, while 53 percent said they would blame Republicans.
Is a deal possible?
Speaker Boehner turned 63 on Saturday. He has served 22 years in Congress and was elected speaker in 2011.
His tenure has not been memorable and often he has appeared uncomfortable when dealing with the right-wing characters populating his Republican Conference.
If nothing gets done and everyone's taxes go up, Boehner knows Congress will race to repeal the increase on the 98 percent. So do it now. Avert the crisis.
Mr. Boehner, this is your moment.
It is not uncommon for serious times to call a person to extraordinary achievement. The fiscal cliff confronting our nation needs Speaker Boehner to work arm in arm with President Obama.
Boehner needs to be bold, a profile in courage, risking his speakership to seal the deal.
Boehner needs to ignore his extremists in the Thelma and Louise caucus, lead a contingent of his most courageous conservative colleagues and join House Democrats in a universally distasteful compromise culminating in a comprehensive solution to benefit a grateful nation.
Mr. Boehner, this cliff is your Sandy. The moment is yours. Seize it.
Kevin Blaum's column on government, life and politics appears every Sunday. Contact him at [email protected].