This dysfunctional system has just kicked the can down the road

President Obama has too often seemed disdainful not only  of the recalcitrant House, but of the entire legislative process

Share
Related Topics

Americans can rarely have held their politicians in greater contempt, and rightly so. The agreement that pulls the country back from the brink of the so-called “fiscal cliff” is no more than a feeble, last-ditch palliative. And even that assumes the House of Representatives will follow the Senate in a bipartisan vote to ratify the deal (which at the time of writing looked less likely than ever.)

Some observers have glibly asserted that the stalemate is precisely what the country's founding fathers envisaged, with the constitution's elaborate system of checks and balances. But Messrs Washington, Jefferson, Madison and the rest could never have imagined so colossal a collective abdication of responsibility by the people's elected representatives.

All parties to the mess must share in the blame: Republican right-wing zealots with their blind resistance to tax increases of any nature, the ineptitude of the House Speaker John Boehner, who lost control of his Republican troops, and the liberal Democrats who will have no truck with changes in the costly entitlement programmes, Medicare and Social Security, that are essential if the country's finances are to be put on a stable long-term footing.

Nor can the President himself escape criticism. Barack Obama, whose failure to establish good personal relationships with key Republicans has contributed to the deadlock, has too often seemed disdainful not only of the recalcitrant House, but of the entire legislative process. In the event, it fell to the unlikely tandem of Vice-President Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell, the waspish leader of the Republican minority in the Senate, to thrash out a bargain. And as was predictable from the outset, the deal merely kicks the can down the road.

Vanished is any prospect of the permanent "grand bargain" of tax increases, spending cuts and entitlement reform that the President, economists, t bipartisan commissions and Congressional supercommittees have urged. Even if it passes the House, the agreement will only raise some $600bn (£370bn) of new revenue, a fraction of what is required. In the meantime, a veritable mountain range of fiscal cliffs looms in the next few weeks.

Unaddressed by the Biden-McConnell bargain are the mandatory $100bn of spending cuts that were supposed to take effect from the start of 2013. Instead these have simply been deferred. And even before that comes a potential clash over raising the federal debt ceiling, that could be even more ruinous than the one that brought the country to the brink of default in summer 2011. Finally, on 27 March a short-term budget funding measure expires – bringing the risk of a federal government shutdown.

And next time Republicans could hold the stronger hand. The argument over tax cuts for the wealthy is now off the table. Their goal will be to make spending cuts and entitlement reforms the price of agreement to raise the debt ceiling, an argument to which Americans are more receptive.

Mr Obama insists he will not yield on the debt ceiling. But he did so 18 months ago, and some Republicans are betting he will fold again, rather than see the country default on its debt. Such brinkmanship not only risks plunging the global financial system into the abyss. It also underlines what has long been obvious: that the greatest enemy of American growth is the dysfunctional American political system.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour's Jeremy Corbyn arrives to take part in a Labour party leadership final debate, at the Sage in Gateshead, England, Thursday, Sept. 3  

Jeremy Corbyn is here to stay and the Labour Party is never going to look the same again

Andrew Grice
Serena Williams  

As Stella Creasy and Serena Williams know, a woman's achievements are still judged on appearance

Holly Baxter
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones