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Pipeline politics

A small group of U.S. legislators should be announcing a plan to clean up their country’s fiscal mess. Instead, the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (the “Supercommittee”) gave up, two days early. Its failure to agree on how to cut $1.2-trillion from the deficit over ten years triggers automatic and deep spending cuts as part of an earlier deal to raise the country’s debt ceiling unless Congress unites to reverse those triggers.

But Congress should lie in the bed it made. The U.S. political class needs to stem the public’s hemorrhaging mistrust. The U.S.’s public finances need to be put on a sustainable footing.

The supercommittee itself was a product of political failure, of long-standing fiscal problems, made worse by the recession, and record levels of political brinkmanship.

But unlike other commissions to reduce the deficit, the supercommittee of six Democrats and six Republicans had tremendous authority. And for a time, it showed promise. Some Republicans were open to tax increases and the elimination of tax deductions, a measure that most non-partisan observers (and many moderate Republicans outside Congress) agree is necessary to eliminate the deficit. Democrats consistently demonstrated their openness to the kinds of cuts that horrify their core constituencies. Yet agreement among 12 members of Congress was no easier to achieve than agreement among 535. ...

It would be better, though, to actually look into the abyss. And if it really is that scary, it ought to unite Congress to do something positive reconvening something like the supercommittee; or taking a second look at the sound recommendations of another bipartisan committee, the Simpson-Bowles Commission. Ultimately, in a crisis, public confidence is restored when politicians try, not when they give up the fight.

The Globe and Mail, Toronto

Nov. 18

Arab News, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Obama’s Asia Pacific region trip:

In his speech to the Australian Parliament, President Barack Obama said that his top priority is the Asia Pacific region.

Really? The Asia Pacific region is more important than the Middle East with all its crises? More important than solving the Palestinian-Israeli issue? More important than famine and political instability in the Horn of Africa and the dangers of it becoming a hub of international terrorism? More important than the nuclear ambitions that the U.S. is convinced Iran harbors?

At least it explains why the U.S. has given up all pretense of working for peace in the Middle East. It explains why the U.S. is doing nothing about the brutal repression in Syria. It also explains why the White House so cravenly bowed to threats from Republicans in Congress over U.S. involvement in Libya and pulled U.S. planes out of the battle, leaving the action to the French, the British and other Europeans. It was not that important to Obama. Not that it would have been that difficult to get Congress’ support. But it was not a priority.

The Asia Pacific region is. What does that mean? Does it mean that the U.S. is now wholly focused on problems in the region? Compared to the Middle East, there are none, apart from North Korea and its blackmailing regime. The only issue that binds the Asia Pacific region, other than concern about possible tsunamis, is trade. The U.S. has some major allies in the region notably Japan, South Korea and the Philippines, also Australia and New Zealand but China is purely a business partner. In everything else, politically, militarily and even economically it is America’s rival. So too is Russia, the other major power in the region. ...

It remains to be seen if Obama’s speech in Australia is the United States’ “East of Suez” moment. But for a nation that still is the most militarily powerful in the world yet now seems so unsure about wielding that power, it looks that might be the case.

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Published November 28, 2011 at 1:00 am (Updated November 25, 2011 at 5:45 pm)

Pipeline politics

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