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Blackmailed into shutting down

Obama and the Republicans fail to settle their differences, jeopardizing economic recovery in the US

The United States is facing a political crisis in two phases, determined by the double refusal of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives to give the White House a green light — first on Tuesday to the extension of the budget, and on October 17, to a hike in the authorized debt ceiling. As a result of the first refusal — and its immediate consequence, the absence of a budget at the beginning of the fiscal year — many agencies of the US administration have already shut down, among them the national parks, the museums and the departments that issue visas.

The situation is affecting more than 800,000 public employees, and has not been seen since 1996, when the Republicans carried out an identical maneuver against Bill Clinton. The second congressional threat, which is likely to come within two weeks, could mean a default by the world’s leading economic power, though the sheer scale of the threat ought to bring common sense to bear.

The offensive has been mounted by the Republicans thanks to the ideological influence of Tea Party radicals. The party’s moderate figures, who fear a major mobilization against them at next year’s legislative elections, have so far remained in the background. The move is aimed at sabotaging the healthcare reforms that were pushed through by Barack Obama, which have been dubbed Obamacare. Budgetary power is being used to blackmail the president, at the cost of jeopardizing the proper functioning of the country and its economy.

For the radicals, Obamacare is an interventionist reform, and stopping it in its tracks is more important than any other consideration. After all, their political philosophy is based on a federal government that is as anorexic as possible — “starve the monster to death” is the war cry of this philosophy of extreme withering of the state — with only minimal interference in the life of the taxpayer.

Obama has until now managed to postpone the confrontation with Congress that began to loom at the beginning of this year in connection with the so-called fiscal cliff, when several automatic tax rises were set to coincide with deficit cuts. In the eight months that have passed since then, neither the White House nor the Republican Party have been able to settle their differences to ensure budgetary normality for this fall — showing a lack of effective leadership both in the presidency and in the opposing party, which is practically being held hostage by its extreme right wing, instead of being in a process of returning to the center.

The conflictive potential of the crisis is by no means limited to the economy of the United States; it is viewed with concern worldwide, as has already been shown by certain tremors in the markets. It is unlikely that it will occur, but the mere specter of default, which would be devastating, is already having adverse effects on the image and authority of Washington throughout the world.

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