There was a collective sigh of relief as Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Congress agreed at the 11th hour on a deal that reopened the government and averted a debt default. The agreement represents a virtually complete victory for President Barack Obama, who held steady to his position refusing to negotiate with a gun to his head.
He is right. Extortion is no way to run a government. Unfortunately it is not clear if hardline Republicans have learned a lesson. The terms of the deal mean that they will have another chance in a few months to try to bring the president, the Democrats and the country to their knees.
The final agreement funds the government until Jan. 15, 2014, and raises the debt ceiling until Feb. 7. In the interim, a bipartisan commission from both chambers will attempt to hammer out a larger budget deal that includes entitlement and tax code reform to provide long-term deficit reduction. The commission is to wrap up its work by Dec. 13 and then face a vote from the entire Congress.
Unfortunately it is precisely Congress’ inability to strike such a deal that put the U.S. in this position.
Obama is right that concessions in these circumstances will only cripple future presidents.
It is not clear what, if anything, Republicans have taken from this debacle. GOP popularity ratings have reached historical lows. The party is perceived as being responsible for the shutdown, ready to take the U.S. economy and, by extension, the world economy to the precipice, and as being more interested in photo opportunities than in the hardships imposed on ordinary Americans.
Many Republicans continue to dismiss the notion that a default will damage U.S. status and influence around the world. While GOP moderates acknowledge the damage done to their party’s image — and hope that memories will fade by the time of the 2014 midterm elections so that the party can retake control of the Senate — hardliners insist that the only problem is that they were not radical enough.
The questions remain: How many more times must the world watch the spectacle of lawmaker brinkmanship over the U.S. debt, and what it will take to silence the radicals? Ultimately, it is up to U.S. voters to stop this madness and demand accountability from their politicians. It is not too much to ask for.
The Japan Times