Debt ceiling crisis: the US reaction

What the American papers have to say about the on-going political crisis.

The deadline for the US government to raise its debt ceiling is fast approaching. While officials have said they are optimistic a deal will be reached, the last few days and weeks have been marked by intense partisan fighting, and splits within the Republican party as hardline Tea Party representatives hold their more moderate colleagues to ransom. Here is a selection of views from American commentators.

New York Times

Maureen Dowd holds the Tea Party accountable for the current mess:

Like gargoyles on the Capitol, the adamantine nihilists are determined to blow up the country's prestige, their party and even their own re-election chances if that's what it takes...

Consider what the towel-snapping Tea Party crazies have already accomplished. They've changed the entire discussion. They've neutralized the White House. They've whipped their leadership into submission. They've taken taxes and revenues off the table. They've withered the stock and bond markets. They've made journalists speak to them as though they're John Calhoun and Alexander Hamilton.

The newspaper's editorialis concerned about the emphasis on austerity amid sluggish growth:

The economy is in trouble, and Washington -- fixated on budget slashing at a time when the economy needs more spending -- seems determined to make matters worse...

[Growth has nearly ground to a halt] Nor are there persuasive signs that absent more government support, conditions will turn around anytime soon. Indeed, they are bound to worsen if Congress approves deep near-term spending cuts as part of a debt-limit deal while letting relief and recovery measures expire.

Washington Post

Peter Wallsten considers the implications for Barack Obama's presidency and the challenges ahead:

Averting possible disaster and signing legislation to make deep cuts in federal spending could hand Obama a quick boost -- particularly with the independents who supported him in 2008 but appear to be favoring a Republican in next year's election.

But success means achieving a politically precarious task: finding a formula to win over battle-weary skeptics in both parties and marginalize purist tea party conservatives and liberal Democrats.

Even ending the immediate crisis is likely to set the stage for more difficult battles this year over trimming entitlements and raising taxes -- a process laid out in both the House and Senate bills that seemed to be forming the basis for eleventh-hour negotiations.

LA Times

Kathleen Hennesy and Lisa Mascaro ask whether Congress is now too partisan to settle on any middle ground.

Again and again in recent weeks, the pragmatism that so often has resolved difficult problems in government has collapsed under the weight of ideology. Negotiations repeatedly have broken down at the point of real concession...

Political dynamics aside, former lawmakers say something fundamental has changed. The days of bipartisan socializing and interaction are gone. Many members make a point of spending as little time in Washington as possible, sleeping in their offices and leaving most weekends.

The result is a shortage of the personal relationships and political understandings that ease compromise.

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

The Alternative
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"I won't do this forever": meet Alternative leader, Uffe Elbæk – Denmark's Jeremy Corbyn

The Alternative party leader speaks frankly about his party's journey from being seen as a comedy sideshow to taking nine seats in the Danish elections.

In Britain, popular anti-politics sentiment has engulfed the Labour party, through Jeremy Corbyn. In Denmark's splintered, assorted political landscape, it has created a party called the Alternative. The barely two-year-old party was depicted as a comedic sideshow before June's elections. But with nine of 179 seats, they embarrassed all electoral predictions, including their own. Their rise owes to a growing European gripe with politics as usual, as well as to growing chasms within Danish politics.

"I don't want to do this forever. I want to be a pensioner, lay on a beach somewhere, write books and make money from speeches." Embracing his maverick figure, the 61-year-old witty, self-deprecating leader, Uffe Elbæk, has become one of the most resonant voices in Danish politics. As an ex-culture minister he was tarred by conflict of interest accusations leading to him to voluntarily step down as minister in 2012. He was later cleared of wrongdoing but the ridicule in the media stuck. His re-emergence in Danish politics is no longer trivial. His party has struck a match on a sentiment he claims is not European but international.

"What we see across Europe is a growing divide between politicians and their electorate. We are trying to bridge that divide and move from a representative democracy to a far more involving democracy. You see the same in the Scottish Referendum, in Syriza, in Podemos, in a way in Bernie Sanders and, of course, in Jeremy Corbyn".

In tandem with the rise of populist parties in Europe, they've capitalised on a discontent with mainstream politics, perceived spin and sound bite. In the last elections, the Alternative refused to directly persuade the electorate to vote for them, instead encouraging them to vote on their convictions.

“We are critical of the neoliberal doctrine from Thatcher and Reagan and growing inequality," explains Elbæk. "But I believe deeply in human potential and creating a more entrepreneurial, creative society based on progressive values".

The party decides its policies in what they call "political laboratories" where members and non-members are invited to share, hone, and develop policy ideas. The party is in many respects what it says on the tin. Despite flinching away from left and right political categories, they are staunchly pro-environment and pro-immigration.

"A lot of progressives do a lot of good things in the grassroots, but the reality is that few want to go into the big party machines." The Alternative has been a huge grassroots built campaign, attracting exactly those types of voters. It has gained over 6,000 members in its first two years, a remarkable feat as membership across Danish political parties steadily declines.

The party appeals to a desire, more prominent on the left of the Danish electorate, for a straight-talking, green party not overtly party political but reminiscent of conventionally Scandinavian values of tolerance and consensus. It is hawkish about whether socialist-inspired thinking is condusive to modern challenges, but similarly it believes in harnessing public support directly. They are a growing albeit slightly hippy and unconventional vehicle for political expression.

The migrant crisis has exposed chasms in Danish politics. Controversial proposals to advertise anti-refugee adverts, by integration minister Inger Støjberg, have sparked widespread concern. From across politics and from business, there has been a steady reel of expressed concern that Denmark risks creating a perception of intolerance to foreigners.

A private Danish group called People Reaching Out, published adverts in the same four Lebanese newspapers that ran the anti-refugee ads. Crowdfunding over £16,000, they replicated the original ads writing, "sorry for the hostility towards refugees expressed here. From people's to people's we wish to express our compassion and sympathy to anyone fleeing war and despair".

Michala Bendixen, who heads the campaign group, Refugee's Welcome, wrote an op-ed in The Daily Star, one of the Lebanese papers which carried the ad. She stated that, "the adverts give a completely distorted picture of the situation", clarifying that the Danish asylum process was amongst the fastest in Europe.

Støjberg's reforms to immigration and almost 50 per cent cuts to refugee benefits have made her a controversial figure but despite much criticism, topped a recent poll of ministers in the current government that voters felt were doing well. Largely on the back of a hardline position on immigration, the Danish People's Party won 21 per cent of the popular vote in this year's elections. Similarly to many countries across Europe, the migrant crisis has been emotive and polarising. On that divide, the Alternative has been categorical.

"In Denmark there is one thing happening in politics and another in the streets," says Elbæk. "There is a disgraceful lack of empathy from politicians but the reaction from the Danish people has been really touching. Suddenly we were seeing hundreds of refugees on our motorways, and it came as a reality shock to the Danish people. But they responded to it by offering shelter, food, water, and blankets."

Denmark's new government is hardening its position on immigrants and refugees. The split reaction reflects a more polarised terrain. There is a debate about what Denmark's values really are, and whether the migrant crisis betrays or protects them. Within it, the Alternative, partly motley, but with a non-trivial and rising electoral appeal, are an increasingly influential voice.