In the first of a series of member posts on US politics in the run up to the Presidential race next year, Young Fabian member Jonathan Bailey reflects on the current political battle over the US debt ceiling.
“With great power comes great responsibility” is one of those toe-curling American clichés. Watching the Republican tactics on the debt issue you cannot help but think that the right phrase should be “With some power comes great irresponsibility.”
Next week, the Federal government will reach its debt ceiling and without Congressional intervention will likely default. So what we can learn about opposition tactics from this impending disaster?
1) If you are on a bipartisan commission, never miss an opportunity to create division:
11 of the 18 members of the Bowles-Simpson bipartisan commission agreed to $4 trillion in spending cuts, and tax increases worth about half that level. Both sides dug in on principle and the 14 required votes were missed. Right now that 2:1 cuts-to-tax ratio looks pretty attractive even if some of the details do not.
2) If you want to make a name for yourself, re-define radical:
Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget with its ‘privatisation’ of Medicare and tax cuts did not capture mainstream support until Presidential-hopeful Newt Gingrich slammed it as being ‘radical’. Gingrich’s Presidential campaign never recovered , and the Ryan budget became the new Republican orthodoxy.
3) If you’re all opposing the same thing, oppose it harder:
With Paul Ryan ruling out a Presidential run, the other Republican candidates lined up to say ‘I agree with Paul’ before competing on how forcefully they could pledge to vote against an increase to the debt ceiling.
So far Sarah Palin is winning.
4) If your side is compromising, be a hero:
After House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama looked close to agreeing a compromise deal with around 3:1 spending cuts to tax increases, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor jumped in to sink the deal by blocking tax increases. Not content with that superhero move he had the closest thing to a punch-up with the President that the Secret Service would allow.
5) And whatever you do, don’t try to explain the complexities of the situation to the American people:
35% of Americans do not know enough about the debt ceiling issue to know whether it should be increased or not, and most Republicans are borrowing from the climate change debate by denying debt default is a problem. Inaccurate analogies are helpful too; Cameron had his line about ‘fixing the roof’ the Republicans have ‘maxing out your credit card.’
It still seems more likely than not that a deal will be done, but Republican obstructionism will have done significant damage to President Obama. The left is frustrated with his continued lack of fight and his wider policy agenda has been put on hold with the summer recess almost upon us.
Putting the global economy at risk is downright irresponsible, but so far the Republicans seem to be getting away with it.