Iowa’s two U.S. senators completely disagree over whether the so-called “fiscal cliff” is real, or if it’s even a serious national problem. Democrat Tom Harkin says the “cliff” doesn’t exist and compares it to the harmless Y-2-K scare of a dozen years ago.

Republican Chuck Grassley says significant financial troubles are approaching that need to be rectified within a few weeks. Senator Grassley says it’s not just looming tax hikes that worry him, it’s also the automatic budget cuts.

“It’s a critical situation and it does exist,” Grassley says. “It would take half of the one-and-two-tenths trillion dollar savings from defense, and Democrat senators on the Armed Services Committee and including some statements even by (Defense Secretary Leon) Panetta says it would lead to a hollow military.”

Grassley says our country’s ability to project military strength could be severely weakened by the fiscal cliff. “To me, that would be a crisis if the number-one responsibility of the federal government is to defend you and me and everybody else of the 308-million and it couldn’t do its job,” Grassley says.

“Again, repeat, that’s the number-one responsibility of the federal government. That’s a pretty serious situation and I would call it a crisis.” Senator Harkin says there’s no “fiscal cliff.” He calls it more of a “slope.”

In a conference call with Iowa reporters last week, Harkin said: “Everything’s not going to crash on January the 1st — or 2nd or 3rd or 4th or 5th or anything. We’ll come back in January with a new congress, with the same president sworn back in and we can deal with it then, if we have to. Obviously, yeah, we’d like to get it settled this month, but as I’ve said, no deal is better than a bad deal.”

Grassley remains optimistic a solution will be reached this month before the “cliff” becomes an issue. Grassley says, “Even though it looks and it’s very negative comments you read in the press and hear on radio and television, I wouldn’t be surprised but what there’s people working right this very minute between the White House and (House Speaker John) Boehner’s office to try to reach an agreement.”

The basis for the “cliff” is that on or around the first day of January, a series of $500-billion in tax increases and $200-billion in budget cuts will automatically take effect.

A report from the Congressional Budget Office says the combined $700-billion in tax cuts and budget cuts represents about 4% of the gross domestic product, which could be a large enough leap to prompt a recession.