Taking responsibility before falling off the 'Fiscal Cliff'

We have all heard the old saying that, “Nero fiddled while Rome burnt”. In recent years historians have come to agree that Nero actually didn’t play the fiddle while the Great Fire of Rome raged but probably was stuck with this adage because of his failure to act decisively during the situation.

Could a similar saying be imposed on today’s Congress for their lack of constructive activity regarding the nation’s current financial situation? Only time will tell.

Across the country, everyone is starting to pay closer attention to the pending “Fiscal Cliff” and the potential effect it may have on them.

For those of you that may not be familiar with how we arrived at this doomsday of a financial situation, here is a brief explanation: In the summer of 2011 the federal government needed to raise the debt ceiling or face a state of affairs where the government essentially would not have had the money to continue to operate. Some political leaders would not approve an increase in the debt ceiling without corresponding belt tightening of the federal budget.

An impasse developed and the president and congressional leaders agreed to the appointment of a super committee. The committee’s job was to come to a consensus on reaching a balanced budget either through revenue increases or budget cuts or some combination of both. If the super committee did not reach agreement then a process called sequestration would occur on January 1, 2013.

As has been the common practice in Washington over the past few years the super committee could not reach an agreement and the nation is headed for the fiscal cliff in less than two weeks.

Through sequestration, all federal programs will be dealt an 8.2% budget cut in 2013 with additional cuts coming over the next ten years. In addition tax cuts that had been in place for the past decade would end.

This process would affect the fire service in two ways. First programs like AFG, SAFER and FP&S would have an automatic 8.2% cut in 2013 with possible additional cuts in coming years. Other programs like the USFA, FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security would also suffer the same fate.

At the same time, the Bush era tax cuts are set to expire. This in essence would leave individuals with less net income in their paychecks. If you are a volunteer department this could translate into lower donations and less income through fundraisers.

If you are a career department the cuts to all entitlement programs that your municipality receives could impact your department. In addition there is a strong concern by financial experts that going over the fiscal cliff will cause a new recession just as the nation was starting to recover from the previous one.

If there was ever a time for you to let your elected federal representatives know your feelings on this subject and the importance of programs like AFG and the USFA to fire and emergency services across this nation, it is now. Please call, write, email or visit your congressman and Senator before it is too late.

Every day there is an average of 1,052 residential structure fires in this country. The capabilities of departments across this nation to adequately respond to these calls would be impacted dramatically if this financial dilemma persists.

If congress continues their political bickering they, too, may be guilty of, “fiddling while America burns.”

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