Friday, November 30, 2012

Congress Admits Gambling Millions on Powerball Jackpot, Fiscal Cliff Now Inevitable

SAN NARCISO, Calif. (Bennington Vale Evening Transcript) -- As the U.S. economy teeters on the precipice of the fiscal cliff, two lottery ticket holders -- one in Arizona and one in Missouri -- successfully matched all six numbers to win the largest Powerball jackpot in history. On Wednesday, the prize was estimated at $550 million, after the multi-state contest failed to produce a winner since October. A day later, when the drawing was held, last minute surges in ticket purchases inflated the jackpot to a record $587.5 million. The unprecedented stakes enticed many people who rarely play the lottery to buy into a chance at the second-largest payout in U.S. history, behind the Mega Millions in March 2012 -- among them, a coalition of House Republicans who had worked on a secretive financial rescue deal called "Project Magic Beans."

By Thursday morning, Lottery officials described tickets selling at a rate of 130,000 per minute nationwide. "It's funny," one Lottery spokesperson said, "Americans have no money to pay their mortgages, their taxes, their bills, groceries or other essentials, but they always find a way to buy iPhones and lottery tickets. Given the longevity of an Apple product -- which seems to lose its relevance with the next year's release -- and the unlikely odds of ever winning a lottery, there are a lot of losers here, many in worse shape than before."

But the biggest lottery losers were revealed Friday when Congressional leaders admitted to gambling millions of dollars in emergency tax revenues for a shot at the Powerball prize. The intent of "Project Magic Beans" was to avoid going over the fiscal cliff without conceding to President Obama's tough plan.

Emboldened by his reelection victory, Obama flexed his muscle with a proposal to prevent 98 percent of taxpayers from incurring automatic increases in January by imposing a rise in contributions on the top two percent of the nation's highest earners. So far, little has been accomplished since similar debates took place in 2010 and 2011, which ended mostly in standoffs.

The fiscal cliff itself is conceptual shorthand used to define problems the government will face at the end of 2012 when the austere terms of the Budget Control Act of 2011 go into effect. The measures were put in place to be austere -- to force parties to compromise or face unfavorable repercussions as a result of an impasse. Among the laws set to change are the end of payroll tax cuts, tax breaks for businesses, shifts in the alternative minimum tax, and deep spending cuts to Medicare and the military.

Sensing the impending conundrum, some Republican congressmen broke ranks with their peers by agreeing to consider Obama's tax hikes for the wealthy. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said unequivocally that the House should accept Obama's proposal. However, Speaker John Boehner quickly rebuffed Cole, insisting the party maintain its opposition to any spending or tax increases.

Despite the showdown, most Republicans have appeared willing to accept spending increases so long as they are accompanied by commensurate cuts, including welfare benefits.

But with GOP opposition largely unchanged, some congressmen opted to create a plan B.

"The intent of Magic Beans was to raise a significant amount of capital to offset the deficit and prevent any further discussions of the fiscal cliff, or need to cave to Obama's demands," said Carlisle Olden-Whitely, chairman of San Narciso's foremost conservative political action committee, Association of Republican Seniors, Wives, Young Professionals and Entrepreneurs (ARSWYPE).

"We decided to tap into some emergency tax reserves and the cuts we've made to veteran health benefits to buy about $189 million worth of Powerball lottery tickets. Paul Ryan, a wiz with numbers, told us the odds were almost assuredly in our favor. Apparently, they weren't. Now, all that money has gone to fund state-run programs and things like academic scholarships. Clearly, these are socialist programs we don't support, so we need to find ways to take that money back. This will then be a major part of the conversation we have with the president when we demand to end public education, benefits for non-active soldiers and their families who are no longer contributing to the national defense, Medicare, food stamps, and police and fire services. We're in negotiations with Walmart executives who promise us the corporation can provide all these services on a privatized, subscription-based plan to cities in need."

Democrats scoffed at the Republican strategy, calling any such compromise "ridiculous and off the table." Congressional leaders say the failure of Project Magic Beans virtually guarantees the inevitability of America diving from the brink of the fiscal cliff after Christmas.

(c) 2012. See disclaimers.