Taking it to the wire, and beyond

The US Capitol at dusk. An incredible New Year's Eve in Washington - but not for the right reasons

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Even by Congress' high standards of messy brinkmanship, this was an extraordinary night.

As the rest of America celebrated New Year's Eve, Democrat senators were shut in a meeting with Vice-President Joe Biden. He was explaining a deal he had done with the Republican leadership in the Senate - it puts taxes up for those families earning over $450,000 (£277,000; 340,000 euros) a year and puts off planned spending cuts for two months.

American politicians certainly know how to take it to the wire. And just a little bit beyond. The plan was to vote on it before the midnight deadline. They didn't make it.

Officially, the US has tumbled over the fiscal cliff. But we don't yet know what the impact will be. It is possible, even likely, that it will float gracefully upwards again, wafted on the winds of Congressional approval.

Then again, disgruntled Republicans in the House could send it crashing to the ground, with a sickening thump.

There is a lot for them to dislike in this deal, and they will have a point when they say it does little to cut spending. But to stand on their principle would also be to oppose tax cuts for most Americans. They might decide it would be foolish to play chicken with their reputations.

They can, however, afford to grandstand a little longer. It is an easy thing to do on New Year's Day, when the markets are closed and the federal government is shut, so there is no-one to panic, and no-one to impose any savage cuts.

But play it very much longer and real damage begins to be done to the economy. This has not yet played out. There are unhappy Democrats, as well. But their party had its act together and their president had a plan. The Republicans look passionate but rudderless, mistaking ardour for strategy.

This inglorious episode is not yet over but it will reinforce the average American's contempt for Congress.

The president will do all he can to make sure that the Republicans are branded as the authors of that body's intransigence, and duly get the blame.

Mark Mardell Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell Presenter, The World This Weekend

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  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    So much for Democracy! Why, and the US is not alone in this, do politicians spout on about democracy, whilst doing all they can to "Divide and rule!" Why cannot they just govern for the good of the people and their country, and set aside their partisan policies?

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Wasn't this hys on last night, under a different heading? ..

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    10. Another brick in the wall
    At least they did do something to stop it eventually.
    Seriously? What have they stopped?
    They have just agreed to prop up their country by loaning themselves more money than any other country in history to an extent many believe is not ever possible to be repaid and will saddle them with debt for generations.
    Not responsible at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    A ridiculous palaver just get a short term stay of execution. What can we expect when they have to make some real decisions about their failing economy and massive debts?

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    5 Esilef Ovat

    To emphasis my point would you say the following are typically "right wing"

    ...The decriminalization of cannabis

    ...The slashing of the defence budget

    ...The recall of 10s of thousands of US troops from around the world

    ...The repeal of the patriot act

    ... defence/promotion of the innocent


    All of the above promoted by 1 of the FOUNDERS of the TEA PARTY!

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    "..it will reinforce the average American's contempt for Congress"

    That is wrong

    All of these congressmen and senators would have a narrative pre-written by their staff to which they performed. In that narrative, each of them will be the one who saved the day by doing ... whereas their opponent in whatever race it happens to be would have made a mess of it

    It's politics, not government

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    2. 4_Better
    Everyone knows that this will go through, it is just a matter of how long the Democrats and the Republicans want to play roulette. It is just democracy in action!


    With all due respect, I think you have confused the word democracy with stupidity. It seems American politicians like gambling with peoples lives as much as their British counterparts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Quote from Shakespeare:

    "A curse on both their houses".

    A pity the so called world democracy role model makes things so farcical - A New Year's eve deadline -what next? Is this reality T.V?

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    By this, err, outstanding achievement US politicians have solved the financial problems of the US for the foreseeable future - that is to say for approximately the next 2-3 months!

    (Ooops I forgot - Americans don't get British ironical humour!)

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    An exercise in brinkmanship which if it goes wrong will be blamed on GOP who are upset about loosing the election. The rich in America are going to have to come to terms with the majority who are skint. If they choose not to then the alternative is chilling to contemplate.
    America needs to become more egalitarian. You can not have a few mega rich & the rest dirt poor. People will not stand for it

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    to 7 : Panto:) that was the word I was looking for too so thanks! As for the cliff - very moveable disater is it not....going to have to come up with a new headline, people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    At least they did do something to stop it eventually.

    Here everyone just sat back and watched George Osborne construct a huge cliff and then march us all over the edge of it. And as far as I can tell, we are still falling with even more tax rises and spending cuts planned!

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    The difference between EU and USA is that the USA takes democracy more seriously. The EU spending control rules (decifit < 3% of GDP) were ignored when it suited Germay and France. USA controls its policitians more effectively by forcing a crisis. EU should do the same!

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    5 Esilef Ovat Well the official media streams seem to have had there way with you.

    ACTUALLY...The "Tea Party" movement is made up of a broad group of peoples some get called "ight wing but there are many others who hold broad libertarian views which go back to the founding of the states. If anything what unites them is the following of the CONSTITUTION under a vastly reduced central government

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Who said pantomime was a peculiarly British tradition? The worrying thing is that this collective madness has affected the whole planet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Why oh why are you still going on about this? Its such an obvious farce

    It always goes to the wire then gets resolved. Just a red herring distracting from the real issue; the massive DERIVATIVE toxic DEBT pile the banks are holding &the fact that the$ is being printed into the ground in order to prop it all up

    The bigger story right now is the rush to gold&silver &the manipulation of that market

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    To the rest of us watching from this side of the pond, those tea party led-republicans do sound, look and smell more like creatures from an alien planet. On issue after issue (guns, gays, environment, health care, foreign policy, etc), it's as if those republicans live in a parallel universe to the rest of humanity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Does the senate lean to the right, or is it just those clever photoshop people making it look like its teetering on the edge of a cliff?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Mark, is there a page which shows both sides in a simple to understand method, say bullet points? An unbiased one would be particularly useful to try and understand what is happening.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Everyone knows that this will go through, it is just a matter of how long the Democrats and the Republicans want to play roulette. It is just democracy in action!


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