President Barack Obama and leaders of the lame-duck Congress may be just weeks away from shaking hands on a deal to avert the dreaded “fiscal cliff.” So it’s natural to wonder: If they announce a bipartisan package promising to curb mushrooming federal deficits, will it be real?
Both sides have struck cooperative tones since Obama’s re-election. Even so, he and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, the GOP’s pivotal bargainer, have spent most of the past two years in an acrid political climate in which both sides have fought stubbornly to protect their constituencies.
Obama and top lawmakers could produce an agreement that takes a serious bite out of the government’s growing $16 trillion pile of debt and puts it on a true downward trajectory.
Or they might reach an accord heading off massive tax increases and spending cuts that begin to bite in January — that’s the fiscal cliff — while appearing to be getting tough on deficits through painful savings deferred until years from now, when their successors might revoke or dilute them.
Historically, Congress and presidents have proven themselves capable of either. So before bargainers concoct a product, and assuming they can, here’s a checklist of how to assess their work: