AGA Washington Insider

A policy blog for GIs

Cliff Diving: Don’t Try This on Your Planet

I was recently intrigued by a National Park Service (NPS) flyer entitled, “Cliff Jumping is a Leap to Death.” The flyer contains a series of photos of a young man who leapt from a 70 foot cliff into a body of water. The captions of each photograph were quite disturbing: “While others walked away…this jumper took the leap from 70 feet. Which is the same height…as a seven story building. IMPACT! 46 mph. The body was recovered at a depth of 273 feet.” The warning did the trick for me — I won’t be doing any cliff diving anytime soon.

Apparently, the U.S. Congress has not seen this piece by the NPS, because they are sprinting toward a much steeper cliff than the one that killed the young diver. The so-called “fiscal cliff,” which is scheduled to hit water on Jan. 1, 2013, promises a significant blow to the U.S. economy. The sheer magnitude of issues Congress is facing in the ongoing lame duck session is staggering: expiration of the Bush tax cuts and the payroll tax “holiday;” a short-term patch for the alternative minimum tax; tax cuts from the 2009 stimulus law; and an increase in the estate tax are just a few of the issues on the table. Add to these issues the looming cut to physicians’ Medicare fees of 26.5 percent due to the flawed sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula, in addition to further reductions in Medicare payments of 2 percent and an 8 percent reduction in funding for NIH under “sequestration,” and you have the recipe for the entire U.S. population lining up like lemmings to run off the cliff with Congress.

Sequestration, a provision which kicked in when the so called congressional “super committee” failed to come up with a deal for long-term deficit reduction, would cut $1.2 trillion from the federal budget starting on Jan. 1. Members of congress themselves have noted that the sequester cuts were deliberately structured to be so unpalatable that they would force legislators to come to an agreement on more rational spending reductions. With one month to go before all of these tax rates are set to expire and the sequestration kicks in, there is no overall framework on a budget deal in Washington. Most economists have stated that a failure to act on these major issues will push the economy into recession and many jobs will be lost.

Let’s put the magnitude of the sequester cuts into perspective. If one were to stack one trillion one-dollar bills on top of one another, it would equal the height of eight and a half stacked planet earths. I don’t think anyone wants to contemplate the speed of impact from jumping off such a cliff, but it would conjure up warm images of a return to the flat earth society. Congress needs to be reminded that the world is, indeed, round and they must take action on the pending fiscal cliff to avoid clear disaster.

So, what can gastroenterologists do to help avoid an almost 30 percent cut to Medicare and an 8 percent cut to NIH funding on Jan. 1?

You can dive right into the AGA Virtual Advocacy Day on Tuesday, Dec. 4. The AGA will guide you on how to connect to your federal lawmakers’ offices and the key messages that should be delivered to congress to act with urgency to avert the impending cliff. And, you will even to be able to take this dive into grassroots advocacy fully clothed and from the comfort of your own home or office. Visit the AGA website and continue to stay tuned for additional messages from AGA over the next few days on how to participate in AGA Virtual Advocacy Day.

Cliff diving should not be allowed on this planet, regardless of how many times it is stacked upon itself. Anyone who thinks it is good sport should see the NPS flyer. With your help, congress will recognize the perils of this exercise before impact.

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