US press: pick of the papers

The ten must-read opinion pieces from today's US papers.


1. The Supreme Court lands in Oz (Wall Street Journal)
Barack Obama, a wizard of another kind, has been trying with fulminations and denunciations to keep anyone from attempting what a law professor might call discovery of what the president actually has done in the past three years, says Daniel Henniger.
2. It’s Mitt! Oh no (New York Times)
That sound you hear is the sound of despair —  the hard swallowing and deep breathing by reluctant Republicans crossing their fingers and praying for the best, writes Charles Blow.
Because Christians have a realistic and non-utopian view of human nature, they should be especially alive to the ambiguities and ambivalences of politics, says E.J. Dionne Jr.
4. Down the insurance rabbit hole (New York Times)
As a scholar of social policy at M.I.T., I teach students how the system works. Now I am learning, in real time, says Andrea Louise Campbell.
Doyle McManus says Obama and Romney could step out of their comfort zones and address issues that don't fit so neatly into partisan talking points. They still have six months to try it.
6. The drug legalization dilemma (Washington Post)
Legalization would mean drugs of reliable quality would be conveniently available from clean stores for customers not risking the stigma of breaking the law in furtive transactions with unsavory people, writes George Will.
Just as al-Maliki forced us to do the right thing, we should allow Karzai to take control of his country as soon as he wants, says Lawrence Korb.
8. Making Greece work (Wall Street Journal) (£)
Since Galileo's day, we Europeans have learned to question things beyond the obvious and to look beneath the surface. We have learned to search for clues, not evils—for answers, not culprits, says this editorial.
9. An unholy mix (Chicago Tribune)
Making the Almighty synonymous with political conservatism breeds contempt for faith. Young people now are far more likely alienated from religion than their forebears were, says Steve Chapman.
10. US must improve cybersecurity (Houston Chronicle)
China shouldn't necessarily be a hostile enemy; it is an ambitious, and sometimes unscrupulous, competitor. And it is doing everything in its power to help itself. By failing to create a strong cyber-defense strategy, the United States is helping, too, says this editorial.
US Supreme Court. Credit: Getty Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.