Obama still has a job. How about you, Mr. Speaker?

The deal struck to avert the fiscal cliff is the latest in a series of quick fixes that leaves the US economy in terrible shape, with reputations in tatters and with much left to do

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Boehner may well need both hands to hold onto that gavel
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Dr. James Boys
On 2 January 2013 11:58

Last night the House of Representatives voted to accept the Senate legislation designed to prevent the United States from plunging over the self-appointed fiscal cliff. It is worth remembering that this emergency situation had only arisen due to the inability of Republicans and Democrats to agree to a budget for the past several years. Few could have imagined that it would have come down to, and indeed passed the wire, with Congress being required to vote over the New Year period.

Yet 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. It has certainly damaged reputations and could lead to changes in the Congressional leadership.

Firstly, let us consider the policy implications. Since the mid-term 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 was at odds with a Republican Congress. In the past a compromise solution has been found and the nation has carried on as before. This time, however, Republicans went on the record o declare that their number one aim was ensuring Barack Obama became a one-term president, which infuriated 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 approximately 5 percent on all Americans) and the introduction of spending cuts (including approximately 10 percent from the Pentagon budget).

Logical really; the nation is $16.4 trillion in debt 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 appears to have 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 last night.

This leads nicely into a consideration of political implications. 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 passive-aggressive remarks from the Eisenhower Office building prior to the Senate vote had the potential to derail the entire proceedings. 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 last-minute negotiations that perhaps the only success emerged 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 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 terrible shape, with reputations in tatters and with much left to do as Obama begins his second term. Whether the Speaker can cling on to his gavel will remain to be seen.

Dr. James D. Boys is a Contributing Editor to The Commentator. He is a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at King's College London, Associate Professor of International Political Studies at Richmond University in London and a Senior Research Fellow at the Global Policy Institute. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter @jamesdboys

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