Senate blocks Republican bill as debt crisis deadline looms

The current crisis threatens to derail the global economy, as well as Barack Obama's presidency.

The US debt crisis shows no signs of resolution as Tuesday's deadline to raise the debt ceiling draws closer.

Late last night, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives finally approved a bill to raise the debt ceiling in return for $22bn spending cuts. It was immediately rejected by the Democratic-controlled Senate.

The frenzied series of votes has highlighted not only the profound partisan division between Democrats and Republicans; it has also laid bare the deepening rift within the Republican party. On Thursday, the Republican leader in the House, John Boehner, was forced to abandon a vote on his bill to avoid a humiliating defeat by hardline Tea Party conservatives.

While this chaos in the Republican ranks temporarily looked like it could strengthen Barack Obama's position, as the Tuesday deadline looms, the situation does not look good for anyone. We can expect the fast-paced political manoeuvres to continue as each party tries to make their plan more acceptable to the other side, while also keeping their own hardliners on side.

Obama, who entered the debt ceiling debate calling for a "clean" increase with no spending cuts attached, has made significant concessions, accepting deep cuts to state-run health and pension schemes.

This is a crisis that threatens the entire global economy. The International Monetary Fund has already warned the US that a continued impasse risks reigniting Europe's debt crisis. Even if a bill is rushed through, it is possible that we have not seen the last of it.

It is also a crisis that threatens to derail Obama's presidency. The Democratic Senate leader, Harry Reid, has promised a vote on a new deficit-reduction proposal which will incorporate parts of a "back up plan" initially proposed by Mitch McConnell, a Republican Senator. "Unless there is a compromise or [Republicans] accept my bill we're headed for economic disaster," said Reid, who is seeking a vote on this proposal today. According to the Huffington Post, some centrist Republicans may be willing to back the bill.

The two proposals have much in common, the crucial difference being that in the Democratic Senate version, Obama would be given the $2.5 trillion debt increase in one step, rather than the three steps suggested by the Republican bill. This would prevent a hugely damaging second debt crisis during an election year. Democrats are worried with good reason -- a recent Pew poll contains worrying results for Obama.

pew

Disastrous growth figures -- the US grew at an annual rate of just 1.3 per cent in the three months to June -- will do nothing to help. Obama needs nothing short of a miracle on the economy, and this crisis has laid bare the extent to which he is held hostage by the Republican control of the House. If the GOP selects a plausible candidate for 2012, the president will have a very serious fight on his hands.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Is it OK to punch a Nazi?

There are moral and practical reasons why using force to stop a far-right march is justified.

It says a great deal about Donald Trump that for the second time under his Presidency we are having to ask the question: is it OK to punch a Nazi?

More specifically, after the events in Charlottesville last weekend, we must ask: is it OK to turn up to a legal march, by permit-possessing white supremacists, and physically stop that march from taking place through the use of force if necessary?

The US president has been widely criticised for indicating that he thought the assortment of anti-semites, KKK members and self-professed Nazis were no worse than the anti-fascist counter demonstrators. So for him, the answer is presumably no, it’s not OK to punch a Nazi in this situation.

For others such as Melanie Phillips in the Times, or Telegraph writer Martin Daubney, the left have seemingly become the real fascists.

The argument goes that both sides are extremists and thus both must be condemned equally for violence (skipping over the fact that one of the counter-protesters was killed by a member of the far right, who drove his car into a crowd).

This argument – by focusing on the ideologies of the two groups – distracts from the more relevant issue of why both sides were in Charlottesville in the first place.

The Nazis and white supremacists were marching there because they hate minorities and want them to be oppressed, deported or worse. That is not just a democratic expression of opinion. Its intent is to suppress the ability of others to live their lives and express themselves, and to encourage violence and intimidation.

The counter-protesters were there to oppose and disrupt that march in defence of those minorities. Yes, some may have held extreme left-wing views, but they were in Charlottesville to stop the far-right trying to impose its ideology on others, not impose their own.

So far, the two sides are not equally culpable.

Beyond the ethical debate, there is also the fundamental question of whether it is simply counterproductive to use physical force against a far-right march.

The protesters could, of course, have all just held their banners and chanted back. They could also have laid down in front of the march and dared the “Unite the Right” march to walk over or around them.

Instead the anti-fascists kicked, maced and punched back. That was what allowed Trump to even think of making his attempt to blame both sides at Charlottesville.

On a pragmatic level, there is plenty of evidence from history to suggest that non-violent protest has had a greater impact. From Gandhi in to the fall of the Berlin Wall, non-violence has often been the most effective tool of political movements fighting oppression, achieving political goals and forcing change.

But the success of those protests was largely built on their ability to embarrass the governments they were arrayed against. For democratic states in particular, non-violent protest can be effective because the government risks its legitimacy if it is seen violently attacking people peacefully expressing a democratic opinion.

Unfortunately, it’s a hell of a lot more difficult to embarrass a Nazi. They don't have legitimacy to lose. In fact they gain legitimacy by marching unopposed, as if their swastikas and burning crosses were just another example of political free expression.

By contrast, the far right do find being physically attacked embarrassing. Their movement is based on the glorification of victory, of white supremacy, of masculine and racial superiority, and scenes of white supremacists looking anything but superior undermines their claims.

And when it comes to Nazis marching on the streets, the lessons from history show that physically opposing them has worked. The most famous example is the Battle of Cable Street in London, in which a march by thousands of Hitler-era Nazis was stopped parading through East End by a coalition of its Jewish Community, dockworkers, other assorted locals, trade unionists and Communists.

There was also the Battle of Lewisham in the late 70s when anti-fascist protesters took on the National Front. Both these battles, and that’s what they were, helped neuter burgeoning movements of fascist, racist far right thugs who hated minorities.

None of this is to say that punching a Nazi is always either right, or indeed a good idea. The last time this debate came up was during Trump’s inauguration when "Alt Right" leader Richard Spencer was punched while giving a TV interview. Despite the many, many entertaining memes made from the footage, what casual viewers saw was a reasonable-looking man being hit unawares. He could claim to be a victim.

Charlottesville was different. When 1,000 Nazis come marching through a town trying to impose their vision of the world on it and everywhere else, they don't have any claim to be victims.