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State of the Union: A Drama-Free Year-End

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- What a difference a year makes. I've been reviewing some of my columns from this time last year, and it is interesting to see the stark contrast between last year's worries, and this year's.

I was incensed by the scene that unfolded over the much-dreaded "fiscal cliff" at year-end 2011. I'm sure I was not alone in that sentiment, as our elected officials dragged this drama out all the way until New Year's Day, before passing The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012. It was the "sky is falling" drama, at the end of the year, while folks were just trying to enjoy the holidays with their families, that really got to me.

Just two months later, "sequestration" became the No. 1 buzzword in the world. Thankfully, it at least replaced "fiscal cliff" in that role, after the latter term more than wore out its welcome. That's when the unthinkable happened; the sequestration cuts. These cuts were originally thought to be a punishment so dreaded, and so severe, that Congress would never let them see the light of day; yet they were becoming a reality.

Remember the "Super" Committee of six republicans and six democrats whose job it was to find $1.2 trillion in budget cuts over 10 years, thus avoiding sequestration? Well, they'd failed. The scare tactics had us believing that sequestration, roughly $85 billion in cuts out of a $3.6 trillion budget, would cause the sky to fall on our heads and that life in the U.S. would never be the same.

Of course, the sky did not fall, airplanes did not crash due to fewer air traffic controllers, and for some of us, trust in our own government fell to new lows, as we grew weary of some elected officials' cry-wolf routine. I had to laugh later in the year when President Obama, one of the primary scare mongers on sequestration, gave himself props for the declining budget deficit, which of course happened completely against his will.

In the financial markets this time last year, companies were paying special dividends, or paying this year's dividends in 2012 in order to avoid impending dividend tax increases. The rocky ride in the markets that I expected for 2013 did not happen, save for a couple of minor pullbacks along the way. The markets were on fire, fueled in part by the Fed's easy-money policies.

Things got even more interesting as the year progressed. In October came the government "shut down," if you want to call it that. For about two weeks, there was more drama and finger pointing, but frankly, I wish they'd stayed closed longer. Then, they patted themselves on the back for re-opening and saving us all from destruction and chaos.

Of course, this drama was short lived, and overshadowed by the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, which may go down in history as one of our greatest debacles. The enrollment Web site was (and still is) a complete disaster, but that's a minor issue. Millions are now losing their current health plans, as the law of unintended consequences (or perhaps intended depending on your views) rears its head, and many are finding that insurance under this law is anything but affordable.

It appears that the sky really may be falling on our health care system, as the deer-in-the headlights administration continues adding insult to injury.

We end the year with a Congress in which the parties have decided to "play nice." All of a sudden, they are getting along, as the House passed a budget accord that will now head to the Senate. Looks to me like there's more can-kicking (down the road) happening with this bill, but at least we'll all be spared the year-end drama we endured at this time in 2012. (I'm joking here. This bill may not get through the Senate.)

We are still spending way more than we take in, entitlement reform continues to be ignored, but hey, at least we don't have to hear about any of this nonsense on this New Year's Eve.

I wonder what next year will bring?

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

Jonathan Heller, CFA,CFP® is president of KEJ Financial Advisors, his fee-only financial planning company. Jon spent 17 years at Bloomberg Financial Markets in various roles, from 1989 until 2005. He ran Bloomberg's Equity Fundamental Research Department from 1994 until 1998, when he assumed responsibility for Bloomberg's Equity Data Research Department. In 2001, he joined Bloomberg's Publishing group as senior markets editor and writer for Bloomberg Personal Finance Magazine, and an associate editor and contributor for Bloomberg Markets Magazine. In 2005, he joined SEI Investments as director of investment communications within SEI's Investment Management Unit.

  Jon is also the founder of the Cheap Stocks Web site, a site dedicated to deep-value investing. He has an undergraduate degree from Grove City College and an MBA from Rider University, where he has also served on the adjunct faculty; he is also a CFA charter holder.

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