Living Retroactively

Well, it’s the first day of 2013, and it looks like the United States is not going to go over the dreaded “fiscal cliff” after all. Well, that is, if mw_1113_FISCAL_CLIFF_620x350the House approves the plan the Senate passed early this morning. And the issues of the debt ceiling and sequester would actually only be put off for two months, so this whole process will probably be repeated in February. But, hey, the price of a gallon of milk’s not going up to $7, so I guess we can at least celebrate that, right?

In reality, I only scratched the surface of all the complexities this Band-Aid solution involves. What I find the most interesting about this entire process at the moment is the fact that the deadline to work out a deal actually did expire, since the Senate did not pass their solution until after midnight January 1 and since the House hasn’t voted on anything at all yet. This was accomplished using a little legislative trick called “retroactivity,” which basically means whenever the law is passed, it will include language that will cover stuff that occurred before its approval.

Let’s put aside for a moment the horrible example our elected officials are presenting (again), where you can bicker and argue and fart around for months and months, place the financial futures of your constituencies in limbo, and then come up with a patchwork plan after the official deadline has already passed. Instead, let us focus on the wonders of retroactivity, the magic eraser that makes everything in the past bright and shiny again.

I wish all of life could be lived retroactively. Just think of all the things we could go back and fix. That kid you teased in elementary school? Retroactive apology, which would cover not only the original offense but would wipe out the ensuing years of rejection, humiliation, and therapy. Retroactive driving, where you can caught speeding one day but wipe out the ticket the next day by driving the speed limit through the same area. Retroactive bill paying, where if you missed a deadline on a bill you could just pay it the next day with no penalty. I could go on and on. Retroactive library renewals, retroactive tardiness, retroactive flatulence…

Unfortunately, though, life is not lived retroactively. In the real world, if you miss a deadline at work, you could get fired. Even beyond that, if you commit a crime, make a poor decision, lose all your money, or crash your car into a tree, there is no retroactive button you can push to magically undo your circumstances. I’ve read a lot this morning about how the new year means you get a do-over, but I don’t believe that’s true. You get another day, which brings it with it everything you were dealing with the day before. You just have a new day to choose how to deal with it.

As seems to be the norm these days, our elected officials have somehow managed to cheat reality. The question that remains now is how long can they continue to do this. You and I can’t cheat debt, as our government continues to attempt to do. You and I can’t ignore deadlines, which our government continues to do. You and I can’t consistently butt heads with our coworkers, but our legislators have made a science of this. If reality catches us, how long will it take to catch those who sit in positions of power? And then, once it does, how long before the devastating effects trickle down to the rest of us?

It’s New Year’s Day. No clean slates here. It’s a new day. Let’s hope our elected officials wake up to reality soon … not retroactively.


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