The battle over the US deficit is not over yet

Obama puts tax rises back on the table - but will his words be matched with action?

 

In the aftermath of a last-minute deal to raise the US debt ceiling, Barack Obama has hinted that tax rises may be back on the agenda.

The immediate crisis of the US potentially defaulting on its debt was averted with a last minute deal, but politicians on both sides of the debate are still unhappy. Much of the attention has been focused on the intransigent Tea Party faction of the Republican Party, but it would be wrong to under-estimate the anger among Democrats.

Many feel that Obama capitulated far too much ground, agreeing to huge scale cuts in public spending.

While Republicans have insisted that the deal does not include tax rises, Obama said in a short statement that the national debt could only be reduced through a combination of spending cuts and tax rises, particularly for big corporations and the very wealthy. In a return to the rhetoric he entered the debt battle using, he said:

Everyone is going to have to chip in. That is only fair. That's the principle I'll be fighting for during the next phase of this process.

And fight he will have to, if he wants to get tax rises through. His attempt to end the Bush-era tax cuts last year triggered outrage and - once again - he relented, agreeing to extend them until 2012. Ending these enormous tax cuts is the obvious way to reduce the deficit (you can see here how much they contributed to the country's huge debt), but Obama may yet decide it is too risky so close to an election.

Putting tax rises back on the table in as serious way will reignite the ideological battle that brought America to the brink of default this week.
Indeed, many Republicans remain dissatisfied with the current deal, arguing that its spending cuts do not go far enough. Many Tea Party activists still oppose it, even though that their representatives successfully pushed the entire debate far to the right despite controlling less than half of one House ("I hate the deal," said Andrew Hemingway, chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire)..

Obama has already eloquently argued that those most able to pay should do their bit for deficit reduction, at the start of this battle. There is a clear ideological case to be made at the next election: that tax cuts for corporations and the super-rich should not be maintained at the cost of healthcare for pensioners. However, if his words are not matched by confident, decisive action, there is no point in reopening the debate. He has a lot of work to do if he is to shore up support among his own support-base, let alone the country at large.

 

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

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.