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The Pursuit of (Un)happiness: The Emotions Behind the Fiscal Cliff Legislation

In his prelude to the House of Representative’s Jan. 1 vote ratifying the Senate bill that prevented the nation from going over the hyperbolic “fiscal cliff,” U.S. Rep. David Drier (R-Calif.), chairman of the Rules Committee, invoked the sentiment (if not the words) of James Madison.

It was Madison, the godfather of the Constitution and one of the authors of the Federalist Papers urging its ratification,who characterized the legislative apparatus of the new government he helped bring into being as one that is “ugly, messy and difficult.”

As debate on HR 8 proceeded, it soon became apparent that the legislative process that Madison helped design, and the one in which Drier labored for over 30 years, is also calculated to foster unhappiness, as well  — notwithstanding the Declaration of Independence’s clarion call that the original 13 colonies, burdened with tyrannical oppression under the British crown, not only sever their political ties with the mother country, but actually pursue the praiseworthy goals of life, liberty and, yes, happiness itself.

As Americans, We’re Supposed to Pursue Happiness

Even so, on New Year’s Day 2013, speaker after speaker went to the well of the House to register his or her deep discontent with the vote they were going to make within the next few hours to “extend certain tax relief provisions enacted in 2001 and 2003, and to provide for expedited consideration of a bill providing for comprehensive tax reform, and for other purposes.”

And it didn’t seem to matter whether that vote would be in favor of the bill or against it – everyone was equally unhappy; and presumably not just because they were having to work over the New Year’s holiday.

Now, most Americans are really not that concerned with the emotional lives of their elected representatives, and some people, both in and out of Congress, believe that if everyone is unhappy with a particular piece of legislation, it must actually mean that it’s a good bill, overall. In this case, then, HR 8 must be a really nifty piece of law — considering how many people it ticked off.

Some Are Happier Than Others

But beyond the Beltway, one should note that unalloyed unhappiness was not the universal response to what made so many lawmakers so immensely unhappy. For example, world stock markets rose sharply upon the news that the fiscal cliff was averted:  London’s FTSE climbed over 6000 for the first time in 18 months, and the U.S. Dow is equally bullish, ascending over 300 points on Jan. 2.

Other pockets of happiness reign throughout the nation. The long-term unemployed — those out of work for more than 26 weeks — get a welcome reprieve as their benefits get extended for another year, and 99 percent of American taxpayers will not see their income tax rates go up, which certainly makes them happy (although payroll taxes will rise).

Individuals who make between $200,000 and $400,000, and couples who make between $250,000 and $450,000, are sighing happily because their tax rates won’t go up either, even though President Obama had been promising for almost a year that they would.

Doctors who accept Medicare patients are happy because they will no longer be subject to a scheduled 27 percent reduction in their reimbursements. Low-income earners are happy to see that their earned income tax credit is preserved, and parents will still happily be able to take the child tax credit, as well as a deduction for college tuition, on their federal tax returns.

Happy moms will not see milk prices double as dairy price supports remain in place, and the wind energy industry is happy because it was granted a renewal of the Production Tax Credit, saving some 37,000 jobs — no doubt making those workers particularly happy. So there’s actually a lot of happiness happening in the heartland.

Who else is happy? Well, President Obama probably is. After the vote, he quickly jumped on Air Force One to rejoin his family who are vacationing in Hawaii without him. And if you can’t be happy in Hawaii, well, you probably can’t be happy at all, and you should just stop trying to pursue it.

Bill “No Pay” Fay has lived a meager financial existence his entire life. He started writing/bragging about it in 2012, helping birth into existence as the site’s original “Frugal Man.” Prior to that, he spent more than 30 years covering the high finance world of college and professional sports for major publications, including the Associated Press, New York Times and Sports Illustrated. His interest in sports has waned some, but he is as passionate as ever about not reaching for his wallet. Bill can be reached at [email protected].

Fiscal cliff unhappiness

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