Cliff-diving: We now return to our previously scheduled programs

There are only a few more days, and cliff diving is all the rage.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said that making a deal before Jan. 2 seems unlikely, while House Speaker John Boehner has scarcely been seen or heard from since last Friday, when he pulled the House vote on tax increases for the very, very rich. House lawmakers have been summoned back to Washington for an exciting Sunday night session -- during the Redskins-Cowboys game, no less -- but it seems like the political system has reached the limits of gridlock.

One wonders why? America's political leaders have sad faces, but don't seem motivated. Are the Democrats waiting for their 55-seat majority to kick in? Is the speaker waiting to be re-elected to his speakership, before he turns on his troops and passes something with Democratic votes?

Something tells me the political leadership is not as worried about going over the cliff as they have been saying they were for the last year, especially for the last six weeks.

Indeed, it has been my sense all along that the fiscal cliff rhetoric is theater. I have thought for 16 months that the curtain would come down, the rhetoric would abate, some sausage-like deal would be passed, and we would enter 2013 walking out of the playhouse.

But it seems the political leadership want to keep going. And for my favorite part of the budget --defense spending -- it turns out that extending the show may not matter all that much. Soldiers, sailors, and flyers will still be paid. Retirees will still get benefits. Contractors will keep working, with no layoffs or contract cancellations. Even civilian employees in the Pentagon, whom I see as the most likely to be affected by sequester, have been reassured by Secretary Panetta that there will be no immediate furloughs.

So when the circus leaves town, it seems, very little happens and we return to the program previously in progress. Or, to put it another way, the same political stalemate that has existed since Barack Obama first became president.

Let's hope the markets applaud on Jan. 2.


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