Washington's Democratic and Republican leaders seem strangely lacking in fright as they are a mere three weeks away from plunging America off the much-feared Fiscal Cliff.
And we've finally figured out why. They figure they are merely heading toward a Fiscal Bungee Jump.
They are seem to believe that, yes, they'll take the plunge and plummet downward. But then -- boing! -- some sort of bungee lifeline will spring them upward again. And they will be able to land on their feet, right back where they started. So they can go on with their same old political fun-and-games, yammering about making the same deals they failed to make weeks ago, months ago, even years ago.
Here's what our leaders don't get: They act as though this Washington game-playing is all about them. It isn't. It's about us. Our jobs. It's our financial future they repeatedly jeopardized while playing their power games.
Make no mistake: They know how they stifled job creation, by creating a perpetual uncertainty that caused all smart executives to freeze hiring in big corporations and small businesses, and government agencies at all levels.
This year, as Washington pretended it was promoting job creation during Campaign 2012, it was really perpetuating an uncertainty that grew into epic (and almost panic) proportions. Executives in the private and public sector instituted hiring freezes, uncertain whether they'd have to staff up, cut back or even close down.
Good governance seemed a high-risk roll. So they stuck to name-calling and negative ads.
Then for four weeks following the election, they began what they called "negotiations" but really gave us more of the same-old game-playing.
Initially the White House was smart. It detailed what President Barack Obama always said he wanted most: Letting income tax rates rise to just over 39 percent, as scheduled, for those Americans making more than $250,000 a year; but extending the current lower rates for all making less than that.
Led by House Speaker John Boehner, Republicans initially argued to keep low tax rates for millionaires and declined to detail the cuts they wanted most. They said Obama should first propose cuts he wanted Republicans to make, especially in entitlements such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
But the other day, after wasting weeks in political posturing, Boehner proposed the GOP's first real compromise -- a plan that offers $2.2 trillion in savings, a bit more than Obama's plan. It includes $800 billion in new tax revenue, achieved by keeping low tax rates for the wealthiest, but shrinking their tax deductions. It also would slow the growth of benefits for programs including Medicare and Social Security, and reduce benefits in those programs that the wealthiest Americans receive but really don't need.
Put the plans on paper and you see a deal can be reached now before we get to the edge of the cliff -- with details to be ironed out next year. But when Washington's famous politicians get in front of a microphone, all that vanishes.
They start performing as if they are in a World Wrestling Federation tag-team match. One makes a move and the other howls and pounds the mat in feigned pain. Example: When Obama laid out his first details, Boehner, who offered none, wailed that, "We're nowhere." But later he laid out his real details. And the White House called Boehner's plan "nothing new." We are waist deep in braunschweiger.
That's why you must jump into the ring. Right now! Not to perform like another scripted wrestler, but to lead our leaders.
Here's what we need you to do: Contact your senators and representatives -- not once but repeatedly. Demand that they quit their game-playing and attack politics comments. Demand they make public their bottom line spending cuts to keep us from plunging off the cliff. If your representative is a Tea Party Republican -- even if you are too -- you must now let them know their no-compromises posture is no longer acceptable.
All year, no pol had the guts to see whether it might be good politics to push publicly for common-sense solutions, which required common sense compromises to achieve a common good.
Now patriotism demands that we rise to the occasion. Even when it means we must lower ourselves to the level of our leaders -- to get their attention and demand that they quit playing their games.
(Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service.)