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, North America editor Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell North America editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    RE: 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 "

    Hilarious! This is the BBC. All you need to know is: Republicans = evil. Democrats = holy & righteous.

    as in Mardell's completely impartial - "disgruntled _Republicans_ could send it crashing to the ground, with a sickening thump."

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Unlike previous generations, many of the wealthy who back the GOP aren't willing to pay the taxes needed to maintain a viable economy. It's interesting to see California voters overwhelmingly support Prop 30, where a hike in taxes will take them out of deficit for the first time in a decade. It's nice to know that some, at least, still believe the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few!

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Our so-called democracies have demonstrably run their course, whether here or in the US. Naturally, with all their feather-bedding, no MP, Lord, Senator would willingly give up. We need change from the bottom up. At the start of this new year, we should all make a resolution to become less tolerant of our current systems and initiate a debate on viable alternatives that meet 21 century needs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Why call it a cliff? Because it is emotive. Because it induces vertigo; an irrational fear. If they called it a fiscal step it would have far less drama. It wouldn't tug on the strings of emotions that get us dancing like mad puppets.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Well they need to make it exciting otherwise the next (Die Hard) America saves the world again movie will send us all to sleep!

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    The Americans are close to bust. The only reason they supposedly have growth in their economy is because of the huge amount of money they are pumping into it to force it forward. The borrowed money is not shown on the balance sheet so people are stupid enough to think the growth is real. Wake up everyone. They are going backwards and will drag the rest of the world down if we are not careful

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    The worst of both worlds. Republican intransigence on continuing tax cuts resulting in less revenue and Democrat intransigence on continued spending resulting in more debt.

    Utter madness.

    The 'fiscal cliff' would have been the best possible outcome.

  • Comment number 34.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Mark, will you now please "MOVE ON"!

    As there is not real anything of consequence to see here!!

    Other than a farce rapt in political theatre which appears to feed a pack of those who seem to think they are good at asking questions and relaying opinions !

    As George put it ....."its the illusion of choice"....... nothing more than "World Wrestling" on Capital Hill!

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    President's Obama's ego is the main reason this has become a crisis. If he had a willingness to work with republicans another lie of his campaign. A deal whih would have higher taxes but also included much needed and deserved cutting of entitlements could have been done. But Obama gave his cronies raises

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    They didn't tumble, this was Fiscal Base Jumping.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    US politicians have elevated kicking the can down the road to an art form.

    If we saw this in a Mediterranean economy we would (rightly) view it as proof that the country's economy was shattered beyond repair!

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Why a make or break deadline date?

    Is this just to draw attention to themselves?

    If that have not agreed, then move the date. In the overall scheme of things a day or two makes no difference

    To retrieve all those lost dollars from regime China would be a huge achievment towards balancing the books. Beijing looks on with a smile, knowing they pull a big string

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    "Only in America! From attitudes to God&guns, to the central place of abortion in US politics, to politicians playing 'chicken' with the US economy, UR left wondering how on earth such a thing is possible"

    BIGOTED PROPAGANDA or in other words such views, expressed in this way, clearly demonstrates how the author has been "OWNED"

    As for FISCAL CLIFF, we are already falling

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Happy New Year, 1 January 2013 AD. (Beautiful words spoken by Rowan Williams, that apply equally to so many in the media professions, who go above & beyond the job description & contractual terms to try to help humankind improve decision-making.) In USA, of course, a new shooting: landlord shoots 2 teen tenants, spares a young child, wounds senior citizen. When will it stop? Relent, GOP! Not 1950!

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Yawn.Who cares ?? I don't !

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    23. Grey_Dave

    Equally it could be said; only in the UK / England can you find such limited parroted pub talk dressed up as educated opinion!

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    21. AndyEsbjerg
    Belonging to the winning party grants social standing and power. What could be more important than securing one's place in history?

    Anyway, truly resolving problems for the good of the country is far more difficult than slanging off others for the good of your party.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Only in America!

    From attitudes to God and guns, to the central place of abortion in US politics, to politicians playing 'chicken' with the US economy, you are left wondering how on earth such a thing is possible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    More can kicking


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