The closer the deadline gets, the better the chances for a deal on taxes and spending.
Democrats and Republicans in Washington, D.C., and much of the national news media are up in arms over the so-called "fiscal cliff" negotiations involving taxes and spending.
Adhering to their usual rhetoric, President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats charge that all Republicans care about is protecting the rich from higher taxes. Congressional Republicans suggest all Democrats want to do is spend more and more and drive the country deeper and deeper in debt.
The media hand-wringing follows the usual line from scolds who are blind to real differences in the philosophy of governance — can't we all just get along?
Be careful for what you ask.
The issue at hand involves trying to pass new legislation that averts the consequences of agreements previously reached by President Obama and Congress.
Here's a prediction based on previous standoffs of this nature — they'll eventually work something out, probably close to the end-of-year deadline.
There are a number of big issues at play:
The Bush-era tax cuts for lower-, middle- and high-income earners expire on Dec. 31.
A temporary 2 percent reduction in Social Security taxes designed to stimulate the economy expires on Dec. 31.
Mandated budget cuts — a process called "sequestration" — in federal spending begin to go into effect on Jan. 1.
The Associated Press call this package a "looming $500 billion combination of automatic spending cuts and tax increases in the first nine months of this year alone."
According to the Keynesian theory of economics, pulling that kind of spending out of the overall weak economy could put the country back into a recession. Not all economists agree — some subscribe to the idea that maintaining a proper money supply will keep the economy moving forward.
But hardly anyone wants to run the risk of finding out which theory has merit because the stakes are so high.
So Obama, the winner of the November election who perceives himself in the most commanding political position, is trying to push Republicans into approving higher tax rates for upper-income earners as well as higher spending.
Republicans say they'll approve measures that would result in higher revenue, like limits on tax deductions used almost exclusively by high-income families, but not higher rates. They also blanch at the idea of Obama's plan for more spending and want to see him propose specific spending cuts.
Each claims the other is being unreasonable — so unreasonable, in fact, that going over the cliff is preferable to approving the other side's plan. This is posturing, and people will be well advised not to pay much attention.
Just for the record, we would encourage the parties to find common ground, not because it's important to be nice but because it's the only way to reach an agreement when power is divided between the two parties.
Republicans can't pass a deal without the Democrats, and vice versa. If they don't make a new deal, they'll be stuck with the old deal.