Coming Soon: The Holiday Season From Political Hell

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You think the politics are hot and nasty now?

Just wait until after the election.

This is the political year when time is being inverted, and the world turned upside down. Yes, in California there are big initiative campaigns. Nationally, there's a close, hard-fought, presidential contest.

But both in the state and in DC, the real political action is not taking place during the campaign season. Instead, it's being delayed until after the election.

In California, the notion of bigger governance reform has taken a back seat for nearly two years -- to Gov. Jerry Brown's push for a temporary tax measure. That measure, Prop 30, is on the November ballot.

Whether it wins or loses, the end of the campaign promises to spark a new conversation, and a host of proposals for larger reform.

And if Prop 30 loses, it will touch off an immediate budget fight that goes through the holiday season.

Under the state budget passed in June, massive trigger cuts are supposed to be put in place, targeting education. But there's likely to be huge pushback from across the political spectrum, with alternatives to the triggers being advanced.

The result: it's quite likely that politicians in Sacramento will spend the holidays figuring out how to balance the budget -- and perhaps what to do about persistent unbalanced budgets.

That nasty fight will be paralleled by an even bigger battle in Washington. The Bush tax cuts expire at the end of the year, and sequestration -- DC's version of the California trigger cuts -- will go into effect, slashing defense programs.

No one wants the automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that are scheduled to go into effect, but it's far from clear that any agreement can be reached. That sets up high-stakes negotiations and fights that should run all through Thanksgiving and Christmas.

So it should be quite a holiday season, as Sacramento and Washington face the prospect of falling off a budget cliff. Perhaps the need for post-election action will produce big deals that advance public policy. But it also could produce disaster.

Happy holidays.

Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).

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