WASHINGTON – The impending “fiscal cliff” is much more serious than most politicians and the American public realizes, says Bob Woodward, highlighting what he says are the hazardous effects of a political system without cooperation.
“The financial house of the U.S. government is not in order,” says the author of the book “The Price of Politics,” which came out earlier this month. “There is a value in any business or enterprise or sport in running scared. No one is fearful enough.”
A combination of automatic spending cuts and tax hikes is set to slam the economy in January unless Congress and President Barack Obama are able to agree on a budget. The likelihood of such a compromise is a challenge, Woodward says, as politicians become increasingly unwilling to address issues that could be “politically painful for them.”
“So, they make the choices of, ‘Let’s put this off,'” says the former Washington Post investigative reporter who broke news of the Watergate scandal in the 1970s.
The stakes are high as modern political parties become more rigid, says Woodward. He recalls the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton when the country faced similar challenges. Republicans and Democrats sat down and agreed to “one for you, one for me” compromises and, perhaps as importantly, allowed one another to sell the deal to the public as they chose.
The attitude was, “We’re both going to lose, but when we go out and announce this deal, don’t go back and contradict the way I’m selling it,” Woodward says.
“Everyone can go out and sell it the way they want,” he says. “Whether that’s right or not, that’s American politics.”
In the current climate, politicians often starkly contrast on how these negotiations take place. According to Woodward’s research, House Speaker John Boehner recalls a phone conversation with Obama at this time last year that the president was “spewing coals.” The White House recounts the conversation differently.
WTOP’s Paul D. Shinkman contributed to this report. Follow Paul and WTOP on Twitter.