A US government shutdown could crash the recovery

Red alert.

Relax: the Russians are not about to invade! Washington, however, is staring at collapse: in mid-October, the Treasury has announced that it will be down to its last $30bn which, believe it or not, will only pay for half-a-day’s Federal expenditure. Yes, it’s that time of year again, when Washington stares at its Fiscal Cliff, as Congress must vote through the budget and the increased Total Federal Debt Limit.

This used to be an automatic agreement, but now it’s become a partisan issue between the Republican and Democrat parties. The problem is that the man in the White House is a Democrat president and the men of the Tea Party Republicans don’t like this at all. In particular they don’t like Obamacare, the President’s flagship policy, which begins enrolling the uninsured next Tuesday, as the rich will have to pay far higher taxes to pay for this universal healthcare for all, but especially for the poor.

So the Republicans argue that if the president wanted to bring in this hugely costly measure at a time of global economic recession and banking crisis, he should have cut other expenditures to pay for it. The president saw it differently: he was looking at higher taxes. Last year they struck a deal, which finally ended up with the Republican $80bn sequestration, or expenditure cuts, which hit the military procurement budget hard.

This year, however, the hard men of the Republicans are in no mood to compromise. They perceive a lame duck president, who has just lost a one-armed wrestling match with Vlad the Bad Putin over Syria. They perceive a chance to kill off Obama, Obamacare and the Democrats all in one go. They can see Hillary in the wings getting ready to stand, and the thought of Bill "I didn’t inhale!" back in their White House is just too much for them. This, they perceive, is their last chance but one to prevent the loss of four elections in a row – a calamity for the ageing, predominantly white GOP.

Who will blink first this time? If no one blinks, the US Federal government is bust and out of business. Washington will close and go into shut-down mode by lunchtime. It cannot pay its debts and cannot incur any more debts it cannot pay. The vote on all this is on Sunday, and it looks like a total impasse as we head for the weekend, with a 21-hour filibuster taking up all of last Wednesday.

What happens in a shut-down, the last of which was in 1996? Schools are shut, pensions aren’t paid and thousands of suppliers have to wait for their money. More seriously, the chances are that one of the many expenditures to be cut will be interest on Treasury Bills, which could wreak global market havoc, send interest rates sharply up and kill off the recovery, and even trigger the next banking crisis and a global depression. This is nasty, and could get serious, fast.

Stephen Hill writes for Spear's Magazine

This piece first appeared here.

Photograph: Getty Images

This is a story from the team at Spears magazine.

Getty.
Show Hide image

On civil liberties, David Davis has become a complete hypocrite – and I'm not sure he even knows it

The Brexit minster's stance shows a man not overly burdened with self-awareness.

In 2005, David Davis ran for the Tory leadership. He was widely assumed to be the front-runner and, as frontrunners in Tory leadership campaigns have done so enthusiastically throughout modern history, he lost.

The reason I bring up this ancient history is because it gives me an excuse to remind you of this spectacularly ill-judged photoshoot:


“And you're sure this doesn't make me look a bit sexist?”
Image: Getty

Obviously it’s distressing to learn that, as recently as October 2005, an ostensibly serious politician could have thought that drawing attention to someone else’s boobs was a viable electoral strategy. (Going, one assumes, for that all important teenage boy vote.)

But what really strikes me about that photo is quite how pleased with himself Davis looks. Not only is he not thinking to himself, “Is it possible that this whole thing was a bad idea?” You get the distinct impression that he’s never had that thought in his life.

This impression is not dispelled by the interview he gave to the Telegraph‘s Alice Thompson and Rachel Sylvester three months earlier. (Hat tip to Tom Hamilton for bringing it to my attention.) It’s an amazing piece of work – I’ve read it twice, and I’m still not sure if the interviewers are in on the joke – so worth reading in its entirety. But to give you a flavour, here are some highlights:

He has a climbing wall in his barn and an ice-axe leaning against his desk. Next to a drinks tray in his office there is a picture of him jumping out of a helicopter. Although his nose has been broken five times, he still somehow manages to look debonair. (...)

To an aide, he shouts: “Call X - he’ll be at MI5,” then tells us: “You didn’t hear that. I know lots of spooks.” (...)

At 56, he comes – as he puts it – from “an older generation”. He did not change nappies, opting instead to teach his children to ski and scuba-dive to make them brave. (...)

“I make all the important decisions about World War Three, she makes the unimportant ones about where we’re going to live.”

And my personal favourite:

When he was demoted by IDS, he hit back, saying darkly: “If you’re hunting big game, you must make sure you kill with the first shot.”

All this, I think, tells us two things. One is that David Davis is not a man who is overly burdened with self-doubt. The other is that he probably should be once in a while, because bloody hell, he looks ridiculous, and it’s clear no one around him has the heart to tell him.

Which brings us to this week’s mess. On Monday, we learned that those EU citizens who choose to remain in Britain will need to apply for a listing on a new – this is in no way creepy – “settled status” register. The proposals, as reported the Guardian, “could entail an identity card backed up by entry on a Home Office central database or register”. As Brexit secretary, David Davis is the man tasked with negotiating and delivering this exciting new list of the foreign.

This is odd, because Davis has historically been a resolute opponent of this sort of nonsense. Back in June 2008, he resigned from the Tory front bench and forced a by-election in his Haltemprice & Howden constituency, in protest against the Labour government’s creeping authoritarianism.

Three months later, when Labour was pushing ID cards of its own, he warned that the party was creating a database state. Here’s the killer quote:

“It is typical of this government to kickstart their misguided and intrusive ID scheme with students and foreigners – those who have no choice but to accept the cards – and it marks the start of the introduction of compulsory ID cards for all by stealth.”

The David Davis of 2017 better hope that the David Davis of 2008 doesn’t find out what he’s up to, otherwise he’s really for it.

The Brexit secretary has denied, of course, that the government’s plan this week has anything in common with the Labour version he so despised. “It’s not an ID card,” he told the Commons. “What we are talking about here is documentation to prove you have got a right to a job, a right to residence, the rest of it.” To put it another way, this new scheme involves neither an ID card nor the rise of a database state. It’s simply a card, which proves your identity, as registered on a database. Maintained by the state.

Does he realise what he’s doing? Does the man who once quit the front bench to defend the principle of civil liberties not see that he’s now become what he hates the most? That if he continues with this policy – a seemingly inevitable result of the Brexit for which he so enthusiastically campaigned – then he’ll go down in history not as a campaigner for civil liberties, but as a bloody hypocrite?

I doubt he does, somehow. Remember that photoshoot; remember the interview. With any other politician, I’d assume a certain degree of inner turmoil must be underway. But Davis does not strike me as one who is overly prone to that, either.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

0800 7318496