A government shutdown is not the real threat

The debt ceiling debate is far more important.

As I write, 2.30pm UK time on 30th Sept, it is looking increasingly likely that the dysfunctional US Congress is stumbling towards an impasse which will cause an embarrassing temporary shutdown of US Government. The one consolation that ordinary Americans can potentially cling to in the face of this debacle, is that this is how it’s meant to be-having escaped Britain’s despotic rule, the Founding Fathers drafted the constitution very carefully to ensure extensive check and balances, limitations of powers, and separation of powers between different branches of government.

Last week the Republican House majority amended the so-called  "continuing resolution" (CR-the bill required to authorize government spending), to include de-funding of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). The Democrat-controlled Senate was quick to chuck this out, (of course). The House then came back with a tweeked amendment, delaying some Obamacare for a year and repealing a tax on medical devices.  The senate will also reject this version of CR when it rolls into work today at 2pm Washington time.

We may then get yet another iteration from the House, but time will be running out if so, as the current fiscal year ends and government spending authority expires at midnight on 30th, leaving very little time for the Senate and House to complete this ping-pong game successfully. Waving some of the Senate’s ponderous procedures may yet allow passage before midnight, but it’s looking unlikely now.

Up to 800,000 government workers may be laid-off and some economic statistics will not be released, but the law states that many categories of spending are deemed critical and are thus exempt from mandatory shutdown; only so-called "discretionary spending" is affected. The direct hit to GDP is probably about 0.2 per cent per week of shutdown, on an annualized basis, and I would expect the shutdown to last a week at most.

The real problem here is that there are in fact three parties in the House-mainstream Republicans and Democrats, and then the Republican Tea Party caucus; the latter is effectively forcing Republican House Speaker Boehner to take a stab at Obamacare by including these amendments in the CR-even though they have no chance of getting through the Senate.

The reality is that this is surely a nerve-racking escapade, even for the Tea Party, and certainly for more moderate Republican politicians who know their constituents will not thank them for provoking this pointless to and fro, and a government shutdown. Mid-term elections approach in November 2014 and I believe this is why we should not worry that these CR shenanigans imply anything for the far more important debt ceiling debate, which must be concluded over the next few weeks to avoid a US default.

Congress may yet cause a government shutdown, but if so, that’s probably because politicians know it won’t have disastrous consequences, either for the country or for their chances of re-election - they are extremely unlikely to view the prospect of a US default in the same way. The party seen to have caused that will have committed electoral suicide.

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Want to beat child poverty? End the freeze on working-age benefits

Freezing working-age benefits at a time of rising prices is both economically and morally unsound. 

We serve in politics to change lives. Yet for too long, many people and parts of Britain have felt ignored. Our response to Brexit must respond to their concerns and match their aspirations. By doing so, we can unite the country and build a fairer Britain.

Our future success as a country depends on making the most of all our talents. So we should begin with a simple goal – that child poverty must not be a feature of our country’s future.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies projects that relative child poverty will see the biggest increase in a generation in this Parliament. That is why it is so troubling that poverty has almost disappeared from the political agenda under David Cameron, and now Theresa May.

The last Labour Government’s record reminds us what can be achieved. Labour delivered the biggest improvement of any EU nation in lifting one million children out of poverty, transforming so many lives. Child poverty should scar our conscience as much as it does our children’s futures. So we have a duty to this generation to make progress once again.

In my Barnsley constituency, we have led a campaign bringing together Labour party members, community groups, and the local Labour Council to take action. My constituency party recently published its second child poverty report, which included contributions from across our community on addressing this challenge.

Ideas ranged from new requirements on developments for affordable housing, to expanding childcare, and the great example set by retired teachers lending their expertise to tutor local students. When more than 200 children in my constituency fall behind in language skills before they even start school, that local effort must be supported at the national level.

In order to build a consensus around renewed action, I will be introducing a private member’s bill in Parliament. It will set a new child poverty target, with requirements to regularly measure progress and report against the impact of policy choices.

I hope to work on a cross-party basis to share expertise and build pressure for action. In response, I hope that the Government will make this a priority in order to meet the Prime Minister’s commitment to make Britain a country that works for everyone.

The Autumn Statement in two months’ time is an opportunity to signal a new approach. Planned changes to tax and benefits over the next four years will take more than one pound in every ten pounds from the pockets of the poorest families. That is divisive and short-sighted, particularly with prices at the tills expected to rise.

Therefore the Chancellor should make a clear commitment to those who have been left behind by ending the freeze on working-age benefits. That would not only be morally right, but also sound economics.

It is estimated that one pound in every five pounds of public spending is associated with poverty. As well as redirecting public spending, poverty worsens the key economic challenges we face. It lowers productivity and limits spending power, which undermine the strong economy we need for the future.

Yet the human cost of child poverty is the greatest of all. When a Sure Start children’s centre is lost, it closes a door on opportunity. That is penny wise but pound foolish and it must end now.

The smarter approach is to recognise that a child’s earliest years are critical to their future life chances. The weight of expert opinion in favour of early intervention is overwhelming. So that must be our priority, because it is a smart investment for the future and it will change lives today.

This is the cause of our times. To end child poverty so that no-one is locked out of the opportunity for a better future. To stand in the way of a Government that seeks to pass by on the other side. Then to be in position to replace the Tories at the next election.

By doing so, we can answer that demand for change from people across our country. And we can provide security, opportunity, and hope to those who need it most.

That is how we can begin to build a fairer Britain.
 
 

Dan Jarvis is the Labour MP for Barnsley Central and a former Major in the Parachute Regiment.