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 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 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 121.

    Its time for an answewr to the persistant question, 'Do the Republicans want Obama to fail more than they want America to succeed?'

  • 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 43.

    The US spends over 60 billion dollars EVERY YEAR on nuclear weapons. This is 50% more than Russia, China and all the other countries in the world added together. Is there any mention of reducing this obscene figure? No. Do we hear any US citizens complaining about where there money is going? No. They deserve whatever they get.


Comments 5 of 481



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