At a point well beyond the last minute the House of Representatives voted to accept the Senate legislation designed to prevent the United States from plunging over the self-appointed fiscal cliff. This was a total abdication of political leadership on either side of the political aisle in a situation that had only arisen due to the inability of Republicans and Democrats to agree to a budget for the past several years. However, this package, designed to shock Washington out of its short-term approach to monumental problems has been totally undermined. Rather than causing politicians to sit down and thrash out their differences, the total lack of adequate leadership on either side of the political aisle has resulted in brinkmanship, grandstanding and posturing that has left the United States in little better shape than before. Indeed, it may have inflicted more harm than good with the Congressional Budget Office suggesting that this move could add a further $4 trillion to the deficit.
Since the midterms elections of 2010, the White House and the House of Representatives have been unable to agree on a federal budget. Not for the first time in history, a Democratic President is at odds with a Republican Congress. In the past a compromise solution has been found and the nation carried. This time, however, Republicans declared that their number one aim was ensuring Barack Obama became a one-term president, which infuriated the White House. This was coupled by poor Congressional relations from the White House. With both sides at fault, the so-called Super Committee convened in the summer of 2011 to formulate a series of policies that would need to be enacted should the two sides fail to come up with a solution. These included ending the Bush-era tax cuts (which would result in taxes increasing by aprox 5% on all Americans) and the introduction of spending cuts (including aprox 10% from the Pentagon budget). Logical really; the nation is $16.4 trillion in dept and this needs to be rectified. Democrats are loathed to reduce spending, whilst Republicans are opposed to tax increases. Someone has to give. Alas, the deal that has been reached only raises taxes. It has failed to grasp the nettle of spending cuts that would be necessary to reduce the budget deficit substantially. Little wonder that this package is one that few are happy with and was one that most Republicans refused to endorse in the House of Representatives. As a result, the Republican Speaker was forced to rely on Democrats to get the measures passed.
Few have emerged with their reputations enhanced, least of all the President and the Speaker, each of whom have hit an all time low in recent days in terms of performance. The President’s remarks from the Eisenhower Office building prior to the Senate vote had the potential to derail the entire proceedings due to the passive-aggressive tone. Meanwhile the Speaker’s inept effort to get his fellow Republicans to agree to tax rises for those earning over $1 million backfired terribly and led him to effectively throw in the towel and pass the buck to the Senate! It was in these negotiations that perhaps the only success emerged, in last minute negotiations between the vice president and the Senate Minority leader. This reveals the true nature of how politics in Washington works: Intimate conversations, based on years of association, between two people who have worked together in the past. Megaphone politics doesn’t work and President Obama should know this. Or at least he would if he had served any serious time in the Senate before deciding to run for the presidency. The deal struck is the latest in a series of short term, quick fixes that leaves the US economy in a terrible shape, with reputations in tatters and with much left to do as Obama begins his second term.