Jack Tame: C word heard: compromise

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The funny thing about an impending economic catastrophe was that no one seemed to care.

Congress was none too fussed: despite the US$85 billion in wide-ranging spending cuts set to crash down into effect, the week apparently served as a perfect opportunity to schedule a congressional recess.

The punters weren't too bothered either. They'd done the fiscal cliff thing before and, for all the warnings and threats two months ago, the sky hadn't fallen. The United States kept on spending. Congress kept on bickering. The boy who cried wolf at New Year was the President who cried sequestration.

Sequestration, for those wanting more than just a king hit in Scrabble, is a self-imposed budgetary punishment of sorts. Totalling hundreds of billions of dollars in across-the-board spending cuts, the clause was initially instigated as an economic deterrent that would come into effect only if Congress couldn't agree on a plan to reduce the US debt. If the divided Congress was at gunpoint, sequestration was the bullet in the chamber. The cuts were designed to be so hurtful that Republicans and Democrats would have no choice but to reach a compromise and pass a plan.

Except they didn't.

Barack Obama spent his week trying to sexify the impact, if not the word.

Touring the country on a sequestration campaign, it almost seemed as though the President wanted the cuts to take effect; as if after all the analysis and threats and delays he'd finally run out of patience.

He wanted to Thelma-and-Louise that cliff, delighting in pushing the big, red, do-not-push-under-any-circumstances button, as a middle fingered I-told-you-so to every Republican in Washington.

The problem though with US$85 billion dollars in end-of-the-world spending cuts was that, in practice, they didn't sound so bad. Slower long-term weather forecasts? Snooze fest. Longer waits for passport renewals? We can manage. A longer processing time for gun buyers' background checks? You know, maybe that's not actually such a bad thing.

Indeed, it took some creatively pessimistic extrapolation for the President to impart sequestration's Armageddon-like potential. Wildfires will be left to rage! FBI cuts will leave the US vulnerable to terrorism and unprepared for nuclear attacks!

In the debate over whether tax or spending cuts should take the burden in fixing the deficit, I can offer the United States Congress only a few bits of advice. Perhaps as a play on the take-a-penny-leave-a-penny trays that adorn the nation's convenience stores, the Federal Reserve could ask every American to kindly donate their one cent coins in the interest of the national debt. It'd be a small start, sure: with two hundred billion pennies in circulation, a mere $2 billion would be knocked off the deficit. Still, it's more than Congress has achieved thus far.

In place of the pennies, however, I'm pleased to note the US Treasury has ruled out minting new cash. Though the inflation from a $1 trillion coin may make Ebay shipping costs to the South Pacific even less agreeable, it'd be a comically temporary Zimbabwe-esque solution. And I'd be rather surprised if the cashier at the 7-Eleven had enough coins to give Obama change.

No, perhaps the US Congress is left to contemplate what is, and for three years has been, the only solution to its multiple impasses: political compromise.

Ha.

- Herald on Sunday

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