Greg Ip

Articles by The Economist’s U.S. Economics Editor

The debt-ceiling deal: No thanks to anyone

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America has avoided default, but political dysfunction is threatening its chances of economic recovery

Aug 6th 2011 | WASHINGTON, DC | from the print edition

[Greg Ip & our U.S. political correspondent]

THE deficit-reduction deal that finally raised America’s debt ceiling and staved off the threat of default seemed to make no one happy. “A sugar-coated Satan sandwich,” one Democratic congressman called it. Republican candidates for president lined up to denounce it.

But even less popular than the deal itself was the process that led up to it: months of partisan wrangling, broken deals and brinkmanship, with the threat of default hanging over an economy struggling to grow. “Our economy didn’t need Washington to come along with a manufactured crisis to make things worse,” Barack Obama noted as he signed the deal into law on August 2nd—the day the Treasury had warned that it would run out of cash to meet its obligations.

The deal, hammered out just days before that deadline, promises $917 billion in spending cuts over the next decade in return for a two-stage increase in the debt ceiling of $900 billion. After that, a 12-member congressional committee, equally composed of Republicans and Democrats, is to find $1.5 trillion in further deficit reductions that Congress must approve by December 23rd, in return for a similar-sized increase in the debt ceiling. If the committee fails to reach agreement or its proposal is rejected, $1.2 trillion in spending cuts will be triggered, drawn equally from domestic spending and defence.

This is far from a lasting solution to America’s climbing debt. Neither Republicans nor Democrats were forced to slaughter their sacred cows. Republicans kept higher taxes off the table, and Democrats did the same with the biggest entitlements: Medicaid (the federal-state health programme for the poor), Social Security (pensions) and most of Medicare, the federal health programme for the elderly. The deal also threatens to tighten fiscal policy further in 2012, when the recovery is still struggling to establish itself.

It marks, too, another deeply worrying change. The willingness of one party to use the threat of default, if not on government bonds then on other federal obligations such as pensions and pay-cheques, marked a dangerous escalation in the partisan rancour that has come to bedevil policymaking. It is not just big, controversial things like tax reform and climate change that fall victim to gridlock, but smaller, routine matters where disagreements are often slight. Since 2007 the Federal Aviation Administration has operated on no less than 20 short-term funding authorisations; the latest finally ran out on July 22nd because of a congressional dispute, forcing the layoff of thousands of workers and a halt to airport building projects (see article). Many regulatory positions remain vacant because Senate Republicans are blocking appointments to them. Free-trade agreements with Colombia, South Korea and Panama, supported by both parties, have been stalled because the Democrats want ratification linked to renewal of a worker-training programme and Republicans do not.

 The entire article is linked here.
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Written by gregip

August 4, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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