Beltway Briefing: Top stories from the US today

What do Mick Jagger and US voters have in common? | Are tax increases the answer? | Bachmann's boom

What do Mick Jagger and 84 per cent of Americans have in common? An absence of satisfaction. According to the latest Gallup poll, only 16 per cent of Americans were satisfied with the way things were going in the US. This is a huge drop from the heady days of Summer 2009, as the Obama administration found its feet and a whopping 36 per cent of Americans were happy with the way the US was going. Those days, however, seem a long time ago, while the 2012 Election is getting ever closer.

The US is in trouble financially. Many have been quick to blame the deficit on bailouts, wars and general government profligacy. The main cause, however, is something more simple: falling tax receipts. As Ezra Klein points out:

Revenues right now are less than 15 percent of GDP -- a 50-year low, and well below the 19+% that historically accompanies balanced budgets.

The good news is that US citizens are "open" to tax increases. The bad news (from the Democratic point of view) is that most voters would prefer to see spending cuts first, according to the below Gallup poll. 32 per cent want to see a mixture of spending cuts and tax rises; 30 per cent want mostly spending cuts to solve the deficit, and 20 per cent want spending cuts alone.

Gallup

Bachmann's support may be slightly soft according to a Beltway Briefing earlier this week, but it is still on the up-swing, according to a new poll in the Des Moines Register. Politico spotted it:

Among likely Iowa GOP caucus-goers, the poll found Bachmann had 32 percent support, holding a statistically insignificant lead over Romney at 29 percent.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty had 7 percent; former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum had 6 percent; U.S. Rep. Ron Paul had 3 percent; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich had 2 percent; retired Georgia businessman Herman Cain had 1 percent, while former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman had zero percent, the same as former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson.

The big mo is currently all Bachmann's.

The campaign group Right Wing Watch have created a video splicing clips of potential presidential candidate, the Texan Governor Rick Perry speaking to the nation in amongst various homophobic, anti-abortion, right-wing clips from Confederate groups he has ties with.

Perry's broadcast asks his viewers to join their fellow Americans at a prayer rally because "things spiritual in nature" are needed more than ever in a world where people are "adrift in a sea of moral relativism". News comes today that Perry is being sued by a group of atheists and agnostics for what they view as a violation of the constitutional principle separating church and state.

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After Article 50 is triggered, what happens next?

Theresa May says Article 50 will be triggered on 29 March. The UK must prepare for years, if not decades, of negotiating. 

Back in June, when Europe woke to the news of Brexit, the response was muted. “When I first emerged from my haze to go to the European Parliament there was a big sign saying ‘We will miss you’, which was sweet,” Labour MEP Seb Dance remembered at a European Parliament event in London. “The German car industry said we don’t want any disruption of trade.”

But according to Dance – best known for holding up a “He’s Lying” sign behind Nigel Farage’s head – the mood has hardened with the passing months.

The UK is seen as demanding. The Prime Minister’s repeated refusal to guarantee EU citizens’ rights is viewed as toxic. The German car manufacturers now say the EU is more important than British trade. “I am afraid that bonhomie has evaporated,” Dance said. 

On Wednesday 29 March the UK will trigger Article 50. Doing so will end our period of national soul-searching and begin the formal process of divorce. So what next?

The European Parliament will have its say

In the EU, just as in the UK, the European Parliament will not be the lead negotiator. But it is nevertheless very powerful, because MEPs can vote on the final Brexit deal, and wield, in effect, a veto.

The Parliament’s chief negotiator is Guy Verhofstadt, a committed European who has previously given Remoaners hope with a plan to offer them EU passports. Expect them to tune in en masse to watch when this idea is revived in April (it’s unlikely to succeed, but MEPs want to discuss the principle). 

After Article 50 is triggered, Dance expects MEPs to draw up a resolution setting out its red lines in the Brexit negotiations, and present this to the European Commission.

The European Commission will spearhead negotiations

Although the Parliament may provide the most drama, it is the European Commission, which manages the day-to-day business of the EU, which will lead negotiations. The EU’s chief negotiator is Michel Barnier. 

Barnier is a member of the pan-EU European People’s Party, like Jean-Claude Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He has said of the negotiations: “We are ready. Keep calm and negotiate.”

This will be a “deal” of two halves

The Brexit divorce is expected to take 16 to 18 months from March (although this is simply guesswork), which could mean Britain officially Brexits at the start of 2019.

But here’s the thing. The divorce is likely to focus on settling up bills and – hopefully – agreeing a transitional arrangement. This is because the real deal that will shape Britain’s future outside the EU is the trade deal. And there’s no deadline on that. 

As Dance put it: “The duration of that trade agreement will exceed the life of the current Parliament, and might exceed the life of the next as well.”

The trade agreement may look a bit like Ceta

The European Parliament has just approved the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) with Canada, a mammoth trade deal which has taken eight years to negotiate. 

One of the main stumbling points in trade deals is agreeing on similar regulatory standards. The UK currently shares regulations with the rest of the UK, so this should speed up the process.

But another obstacle is that national or regional parliaments can vote against a trade deal. In October, the rebellious Belgian region of Wallonia nearly destroyed Ceta. An EU-UK deal would be far more politically sensitive. 

The only way is forward

Lawyers working for the campaign group The People’s Challenge have argued that it will legally be possible for the UK Parliament to revoke Article 50 if the choice is between a terrible deal and no deal at all. 

But other constitutional experts think this is highly unlikely to work – unless a penitent Britain can persuade the rest of the EU to agree to turn back the clock. 

Davor Jancic, who lectures on EU law at Queen Mary University of London, believes Article 50 is irrevocable. 

Jeff King, a professor of law at University College London, is also doubtful, but has this kernel of hope for all the Remainers out there:

“No EU law scholar has suggested that with the agreement of the other 27 member states you cannot allow a member state to withdraw its notice.”

Good luck chanting that at a march. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.