Tuesday, 2 August 2011

The Humbling of President Obama (and those Congress votes in Full)

So, there we have it.

With only 12 hours to spare, the US Congress pulled back from leading the world's largest economy towards a humiliating and devastating default on its debts by increasing its debt ceiling by $2.4tn from $14.3tn.

Source: BBC News Website
Surely, it never was going to happen was it? Probably not. But leaving it to the 11th hour in such a way demonstrated just how divided the Congress is on this issue and more generally. What is quite extraordinary however is that even at this latest of moments there were so many members of Congress from both sides of the political divide who were effectively willing to vote for default by voting against the package eventually put forward by the Democratic and Republican leaders on Sunday.

161 members of the lower House of Representatives voted against the bill against a majority of 269 in favour. The Democrats were torn down the middle with a dead-even 95 in favour and 95 against whilst 174 Republicans supported its passage against 66 who likewise voted for economic armageddon (the indiviudal voting records can be seen here). Be it the ultra-liberal Democratic Party left or the ultra-conservative Republican Tea Party right, that was an incredibly irresponsible number of senior US politicians who were willing to put their differing political ideologies above pragmatic political and economic reality. That surely must give the American people some serious food for thought. Vince Cable recently called the Republican Tea Party right-wingers 'nutters'. I wouldn't disagree with him but in all fairness, what about those on the left of the Democratic Party who for different reasons, still voted the same way as these so called 'nutters'? Their motivations may have been poles apart, but their actions would've led to the same cliff-edge disaster for their national economy.

Indeed, even in the more bi-partisan Senate, there were still 26 Senators who likewise were willing to vote against. Maybe it was in the knowledge that the majority was in faour and that theirs were really merely protest votes but even if that's the case, it's an incredibly recklesss gamble to play. The indiviudal voting records can be seen here (respect to the Senate website who have released the information within an hour of the vote) and shows that of the 26 Nays, 19 were Republicans, 6 were Democrats and 1 was an Independent.

President Obama - Stuck in the Middle with You
So it comes to pass that we find President Obama stuck in a politically neutered position. In such a scenario where the Congress is split between a Democratic-ran Senate and a Republican-ran House, compromise is the only way forward. It has always been thus.

Despite having the executive powers of the Oval Office at his disposal, Obama's powers are still nevertheless limited. On domestic and economic issues such as this, he has not got the ability to wave a magic wand and to do whatver he wishes. He must have the support of the Congress to further his domestic agenda and ever since he lost the control of the House last November in the mid-terms, it was clear that that would not now be the case for the remainder of his term in office.

Will it reflect badly on his own opinion ratings? Only time will tell. He is still in a strong position to seek re-election to a second term in November 2012 but whilst he has avoided a catastrophe on his watch, the fact that it was the Republicans that got its vote out to win the critical House vote shows that there was more in it for them than there was for the despairing Democrats.

A Bright Light Amongst the Gloom
One moment of relief at least came in the House yesterday when Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford was given an ovation on her first appearance back in Congress after she was shot in the head in Tuscan back in January. The emotional scenes gave a brief reminder that Congress can at times come together and claw above the political din which casts in the eyes of the American public, a pox on both of their houses.

As a footnote, Congresswoman Gifford voted in favour of the Resolution. Out of this entirely regrettable mess, she is probably the only American politican who comes out of it with any shred of credibility and dignity.

1 comment:

  1. I'd say the big difference between the tea party nutcases, and the democrats who voted against is that the tea party lot went "You gave us everything we wanted. It's not enough so we're voting against", whereas the democrats voted against because it was a complete cave in to ideological cuts. Despite the fact it passed, the only thing worse would have been for it not to have passed.

    The long term issue is that people like Obama are willing to compromise, and take the Republicans at their word that they'll negotiate in good faith. This despite the Republicans being such horrific bastards.