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.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    The best factual reporting on this compromise I've found is here:


    It seems Boehner is committed to allow a vote, but will engage in the contemptible threat to default on past spending. Sadly, who stands where may become "confused" in reporting. Still, congress' 12% approval rate should hold.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    ref #76
    18 Minutes ago
    Focue fiscal cliff. Ignored by media:
    1. Home Seizures are way up = foreclosures
    Some people are being victimized by Banks but what about the people who bought homes they could not pay for. why should I pay for someone who took a mortage twice what he or she could

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    "3. Federal Reserve pumping more money buying $45B longer-term Treasury bonds/month = desperate measure to stay afloat."

    Haha, if you think $45B is a "desperate measure" to keep a $14+ trillion dollar economy afloat you are seriously misguided over the economy. It is just forcing inflation, which is bad for most people, but not on a scale to have a big impact.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    When the Pope comes out denouncing unbridalded capitalism and income disparity you would think the Religious Reds would give pause. But their real 'god' is who finances their campaigns. The fractured and dysfunctional House may not pass this and we may yet shove off down the Bunny Slope. In 2 months we reach the Debt Ceiling and all this starts over again. Reality is not the Reds friend.

  • Comment number 77.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    Focue fiscal cliff. Ignored by media:
    1. Home Seizures are way up = foreclosures
    2. Bank scandals offer evidence of massive fraud & manipulation addressed by puny fines assuring the frauds will continue. Predatory lending not checked.
    3. Federal Reserve pumping more money buying $45B longer-term Treasury bonds/month = desperate measure to stay afloat.
    Senate Bill fails to address.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    Book of Rules )74),

    "US Borrowing and Spending to achieve growth is what World Economy prescribed ..."

    Only if the goal of the U.S. is to emulate Greece. That sad country has become a vivid example of what irresponsible debt building can create.

  • Comment number 74.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    Bi-partisan efforts are focused = reducing corporate taxes & helping campaign donors = This comes above damage to economy.
    Congress will get the blame if it rejects Senate Bill; Congress has more Republicans, but Senate did not so much as close corporate loopholes costing Treasury at least $100B/year. Corporate taxes account for less than 8% of federal tax revenues – vs. 32% in 1952.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    What a pity. Falling down the 'fiscal cliff' was what the world and the US needed in the mid to long term. This is yet another way of putting off the evil day of paying the piper. Rack up some more debt and hope the day of reckoning can be passed down to the next generation or at least the next president. What is needed is some leadership!

  • Comment number 71.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Her is the current situation

    $620 billion in new taxes
    15 Billion spending cuts

    So much for Obama wanting to solve over spending by the govt. Why are so many obots refusing to blame this unqualfied community organizer?

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    Congress: Can you eliminate domestic sequester? Did the Senate give you room to do that, without rejecting the Bill?
    In January, extend unemployment insurance, phase out the payroll tax holiday, restore stable funding to necessary programs & start dealing with real problems like jobs, foreclosures, infrastructure...Don't feel obligated to accept a bad bill.
    Think GIGO.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    Democrat Pointman Joe Biden; & W.Va.Democrat Joe Manchins "Last Minute" Calm Act; coupled with common sense Mitch McConnell saves the day. Now get ready for the Feb. Storm whereby the Republicans attempt to "trim" Social Security w/ their "new method of calculating Inflation" The Republican Majority in the house is becoming a major dilemia for both the old & the young.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    I feel the facts support the assertion that (Washington) politics are 'dysfunctional'. They manipulate our childish behaviour e.g. a) low self-esteem, leading to feeling less- or better-than b) poor boundaries, leading to (in)vulnerability c) weak self-care, leading to (anti)dependence, etc. We need to grow up. Overcome our fear. Love ourselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    The States emphasise, even more than here in Blighty, why we should have public funding of political parties and an outright ban on private donations.....

    ....too much big money warps political priorities as the politicians have to bend to their pay masters' will.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    America has always been a nation of puppets and puppets masters the real people pulling the strings are not the so called elected but the people who spent billions of dollars putting them on stage if the contempt for congress is as you say very few men who value their reputation would as free thinking individuals let themselves be held up as such idiots

  • Comment number 64.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    @56 slardy

    Because voters are idiots and will vote for people who promise to stuff their pockets with cash and buy them 3 new hospitals each rather than for someone who explains why they can't do the same in sensible terms.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    It's not over til its over; after Senate vote comes the House vote, the Congressional vote where Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has thus far refrained from endorsing a package - AS YET NOT SEEN. He maintains House will not vote on any Senate-passed measure "until House members (&American people) have a chance to read the thing.
    So we are still waiting...


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