In response to four years of massive federal deficits, tax cuts scheduled to expire this month, and lackluster economic growth, the brilliant Barack Obama and the equally brilliant (except in the president’s mind) leaders of Congress managed to make a last-minute deal that added to the federal deficit, allowed the tax burden to rise on virtually every American household, and made robust, long-term economic growth less likely.

For this Christmas-week “work,” they apparently expected praise. They deserve ridicule.

I, for one, have given up expecting good fiscal or economic news out of Washington. It is impossible to take seriously any protestations of fiscal conservatism from a president who has been the biggest deficit-spender since Franklin Roosevelt. Or from Senate leader Harry Reid, whose chamber has failed to produce a federal budget since 2009.

Or even from many rank-and-file House Republicans, who seemed bizarrely to be under the impression they were being asked to vote for a tax increase as part of a fiscal-cliff deal. No, the Bush-era cuts in income and payroll taxes were already set to expire under existing law. No deal meant taxes would go up by a greater amount. Remind me to play poker with these folks when I get a chance – I could use some extra home-remodeling money.

The final deal allowed the payroll tax to go up two percentage points on everyone, which is why workers across America are about to get their first paychecks of 2013, see a higher tax bite, and hit the roof, given how often they were told that only “the wealthy” would see higher taxes if President Obama and Congress got their way.

Moreover, while the deal allows the statutory federal income tax rate to rise from 36 percent to nearly 40 percent for households making more than $400,000, rather than the $250,000 threshold President Obama had originally sought, other provisions of the deal phased out various tax deductions for taxpayers in the $250,000-$400,000 category, thus raising their effective marginal tax rates. In other words, the president compromised little here. He didn’t need to, given that the expiration of all Bush-era tax cuts was the baseline if no deal materialized.

The deal was also littered with the usual targeted subsidies and loophole largesse that arises whenever Washington produces a tax bill. If you were on the right political team – i.e., the president’s – you got a payoff. If not, well, you got hammered.

On top of all that, the bill will add $4 trillion to the national debt over the next decade. That’s actually the best-case scenario. More likely, Congress and the Obama administration will immediately seek to evade the spending “cuts” provided for in the bill, jacking up deficits even more.

The only real good news, from my perspective, was that effective tax rates on income received as corporate dividends and capital gains won’t rise as much as originally scheduled. America will still have the highest corporate tax rates in the world, and one of the highest tax rates on investment, but it could have been worse.

Total government expenditures make up about 36 percent of GDP– about 24 percent at the federal level and 12 percent state and local. That’s the highest level of government spending in American history – higher even than World War II figure of 35 percent. In each of the past four fiscal years, the federal government ran operating deficits exceeding $1 trillion, averaging just above 9 percent of the nation’s GDP. During Ronald Reagan’s first four fiscal years, federal deficits averaged 4.4 percent of GDP. That was too high, of course. But Obama’s deficits are the translation of ideological idiocy into public policy.

Now that the president has scored his cherished tax hikes on the wealthy, will he get serious on spending? Nope. If fiscal sanity comes, it will have to be from a new coalition of responsible Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill – and from a new generation of responsible leaders in state capitols across the country.

From the current crop of “leaders” in Washington, however, I have set my expectations very low. It’s not in hopes of being pleasantly surprised later on. I’m just being realistic.

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