When will US stop acting like a fat spoiled brat?

October 17, 2013

By Rob Cox

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Imagine future historians looking back at the 113th Congress of the United States. They will not judge it kindly. One day when the dollar is no longer the currency of choice for financial transactions around the world, the fictional chroniclers will ask, perhaps as Romans did in the fifth century: how did a nation that had so much going for it manage to squander everything?

The debt ceiling deal of Oct. 16 2013 was when it all began to unravel, the historians will conclude. On this day, Congress temporarily postponed a self-induced battle over whether to pay the creditors of the profligate nation that for decades spent more than it produced. Democrats and Republicans agreed to disagree and end a 16-day shutdown of critical functions of the state, in the hopes they could come to some sort of agreement four months down the road. Naturally, that didn’t happen.

America had every reason to resolve its relatively mild fiscal problems back in 2013. The capacity to consolidate financially, with a tiny sacrifice from old folks here, an oversized military complex there and the foregoing of a Ferrari or two amongst the very rich could have balanced the numbers.

After all, the country was experiencing an historic return to energy self-sufficiency, as new deposits of shale gas and oil were unlocked. Its technological innovation was the envy of the world, and U.S. universities the destination of choice for the global elite. Thanks to a pliant central bank and the perceived safety of Washington’s IOUs, money was cheap and plentiful. Relative to other rich nations, the American people were young, procreating and willing to accept new immigrants into their communities.

It was the perfect recipe for prosperity, the future historians will sigh. And somehow, it all went wrong. Extremists on either side of every debate created a battle royale. Not just budgets and money, but public health and safety, human rights and freedoms, even whether to help the poor and infirm. Compromise emerged as a dirty word. And Oct. 16 will go down as that disappointing turning point.

 

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