April 29, 2009, hardly strikes a chord as an historic moment in US politics – but it warrants attention as the last time that the Democrat-controlled US Senate passed a budget.
Since then, running an average $1 trillion annual deficit, some $11 trillion dollars have been spent, with $6 trillion in debt added through President Obama’s first term alone. Notably, various Republican plans, including one modelled on the President’s own suggestions, were rejected during this interval. Indeed, a revealing insight to the Democratic senatorial mindset is found by noting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid threw concessions over ‘fiscal cliff’ negotiations into a fireplace. (After blaming the Republicans for slow progress.)
We find here a strong cautionary tale for British politics – the danger of politicians who stubbornly worship the failed idol of state spending: Of this, setting aside the Senate’s bizarre aversion to budgets, the recent fiscal cliff discussions are ideally symbolic.
…Americans realised the damage the agreement dealt…
Contrary to the popular image of radical far-right Republicans dominating proceedings, the Congressional Budget Office estimates a mere $2 billion total cut in spending for FY 2013. As has been pointed out, this covers the United States government’s borrowing for every ten hours and thirty-eight minutes. Moreover, despite prominent Democratic claims the negotiations produced a “permanent tax relief for the middle class,” reality suggests otherwise: The term #whyismypaychecklessthisweek began trending on Twitter as ordinary Americans realised the damage the agreement dealt their first pay-checks of 2013. Indeed, President Obama quickly called for yet another increase in the US ‘debt ceiling‘ – this coming from the President that condemned his predecessor as ‘unpatriotic’ for doing much the same thing.
Such are scarcely the hallmarks of fiscal conservatism. (Let alone sanity.)
…continues to indulge an unsustainable fantasy…
Why does this matter to Britons? Besides the disruption and damage this entails for the world’s largest economy, what we find in Washington is simply a Westminster drama writ large. The initial £80 billion in cuts promised by the Coalition, for instance, merely covered the interest payments that would be amassed on existing UK debt during the administration’s tenure. Though The Guardian sidelines the UK deficit, preferring a narrative of draconian cuts, a more balanced outlook would worriedly observe George Osborne’s de facto abandonment of budget control.
In short, the political leadership on both sides of the Atlantic continues to indulge an unsustainable fantasy, even as its insulation against reality crumbles. Note that, for all of President Obama’s rhetoric about tackling ‘the rich’ for their ‘fair shares,’ the forlorn tweets above are hardly the outcries of millionaires. Similarly, the Liberal Democrats’ continued, quixotic tilting at mansions encapsulates how little the junior Coalition partner has learned in recent years. Persecuting that least popular of scapegoats – the wealthy – is still thought a productive policy proposal; neither reason nor precedent is allowed to suggest otherwise.
…Britons and Americans alike must demand a measure of maturity from their leaders…
If we are to avoid reading ‘depression’ in some future headline, Britons and Americans alike must demand a measure of maturity from their leaders. Today’s political mediocrities, with the endless indulgence of a drunk, are marching to fiscal ruin – in itself no great loss, but for the fact they would have us foot the bill. Great Britain and the United States of America are great, historic nations; they deserve far better than the politics of make-believe.