Look at this graph. Now consider that we might face $500 billion in tax increases and drastic cuts to Defense spending in 5 days in part because House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is either unable or unwilling to propose a bipartisan bill for deficit-reduction.
The issue? while Boehner has 241 Republicans in the House and need 217 votes to pass deficit-reduction through that chamber, about 3-4 dozen Republicans aren’t willing to vote for tax increases on the rich even though taxes will rise sharply on everyone else (and the Pentagon will be forced to scale back big-time) if they do nothing. Simply-put, he will either have to ignore almost 1/5 of the House Republican Conference and work-out some kind of deal with the House Democratic Caucus, or we will go over the Fiscal Cliff.
The American economy, a lot of middle- and working-class families and individuals, and the strategic posture of the United States in the World are all threatened right now because of a confluence of quick-fixes to past (Republican-initiated) partisan standoffs. The differences of opinion between the parties on the issues are real and far-reaching, but both the course of past confrontations on them and the temporary measures scheduled to lapse within a week were short-sighted. With a fairly-broad consensus of the public rejecting Republican rhetoric about “job creators” and a majority of Congress accepting the inevitability of tax increases on the rich, around 10% of the House of Representatives may have the power to force us to accept sharp tax increases and cuts to defense spending because they believe (or at least currently assert) that voting for a tax increase on the rich is a breach of principle while allowing a large tax increase to happen through stubbornness is not. And the Speaker of the House is so far prepared to allow this rather than go hat-in-hand to the House Democratic Caucus seeking support, because that would entail too much bipartisanship.
Even if all this brinksmanship wraps with another (deeply-unfulfilling) last-minute deal, I see no end to these unnecessary and harmful political standoffs unless the Republican Party faces further political punishment on account of them. I don’t see another way that will have lasting effects.