The nation may continue its ongoing plunge over a fiscal cliff even if President Barack Obama and conservatives in Congress agree on a budget deal this month. That is because the White House's bottom line in negotiations is far removed from the reality of the dilemma into which we Americans have spent ourselves.
Most news stories, commentators and politicians define the ''fiscal cliff'' as what will happen if Obama and lawmakers do not reach some agreement on the budget by Dec. 31. If a deal is not arranged, tax relief dating back to former President George W. Bush's term will expire. And, automatic federal spending cuts termed ''the sequester'' will kick in.
Indeed, failure to renew the tax breaks would wreck the economy. Virtually every American who pays income taxes would be hit by a stiff increase.
But if there is such a thing as a ''fiscal cliff,'' the nation started over it years ago, when runaway federal spending began ballooning the national debt. It now stands at more than $16 trillion.
Obama's offer on a budget plan includes $1.6 trillion in tax increases during the next decade. But during that period, he is proposing only about $450 billion in spending cuts - slightly more than one-fourth the amount of tax increases.
We have already plunged over the ''cliff.'' If adopted, Obama's plan would merely accelerate our fall. Lawmakers should reject it.