As President Obama and Capitol Hill lawmakers assess the need for spending cuts and tax increases against the risk of triggering a new recession, they might look across the Atlantic for insights from those who have already grappled with those budgetary questions.
The problem of excessive government debt has swamped economies across Europe and forced countries to take severe measures to cut their deficits. The first lesson from their "fiscal consolidation" experiences: It will hurt.
If I asked you to think of a murderer, what's the image that springs to mind?
If you're like most people, you'll probably think of an evil psychopath, or someone bent on revenge. Perhaps you'll see a criminal mastermind, who eliminates rivals on his way to riches. Or a strung-out drug addict, who kills because she needs money to get high.
All of these images have something in common: As a rule, we tend to associate murder with the behavior of individuals who behave in aberrational ways.
Tax increases are only a part of what lies ahead if Congress can't come to an agreement to avert the fiscal cliff by the new year. Massive spending cuts will also kick in — and those cuts will be felt throughout the economy.
The current stalemate got under way two years ago when Congress, locked in a bitter partisan battle over whether to extend the George W. Bush-era tax cuts, passed what was known as the Budget Control Act of 2011.
The president and House Republicans continued to snipe at each other Wednesday over the impending set of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts known as the fiscal cliff. They traded accusations and blame during another day with plenty of talk, but — until late in the day, at least — no negotiations.