NEW YORK – America is on a collision course with itself. This month’s deal between President Barack Obama and the Republicans in Congress to extend the tax cuts initiated a decade ago by President George W. Bush is being hailed as the start of a new bipartisan consensus. I believe, instead, that it is a false truce in what will become a pitched battle for the soul of American politics.
As in many countries, conflicts over public morality and national strategy come down to questions of money. In the United States, this is truer than ever. The US is running an annual budget deficit of around $1 trillion, which may widen further as a result of the new tax agreement. This level of annual borrowing is far too high for comfort. It must be cut, but how?
The problem is America’s corrupted politics and loss of civic morality. One political party, the Republicans, stands for little except tax cuts, which they place above any other goal. The Democrats have a bit wider set of interests, including support for health care, education, training, and infrastructure. But, like the Republicans, the Democrats, too, are keen to shower tax cuts on their major campaign contributors, predominantly rich Americans.
The result is a dangerous paradox. The US budget deficit is enormous and unsustainable. The poor are squeezed by cuts in social programs and a weak job market. One in eight Americans depends on Food Stamps to eat. Yet, despite these circumstances, one political party wants to gut tax revenues altogether, and the other is easily dragged along, against its better instincts, out of concern for keeping its rich contributors happy.