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America’s Partisan Peril

NEWPORT BEACH – The United States’ reputation for sound economic policymaking took a beating in 2013. Some of this was warranted; some of it was not. And now a related distorted narrative – one that in 2014 could needlessly undermine policies that are key to improving America’s economic recovery – is gaining traction.

The 2008 global financial crisis left the US economy mired in a low-level equilibrium, characterized by sluggish job creation, persistently high long-term and youth unemployment, and growing inequalities of income, wealth, and opportunity. Many Americans started 2013 with high hopes that congressional leaders would overcome, even if only partly, the polarization and political dysfunction that had slowed recovery.

Expectations of less political turbulence were enhanced at the start of 2013 by a bipartisan agreement that avoided the so-called fiscal cliff (though at the last minute and with much rancor) and a deal reached later in January to raise the debt ceiling (albeit temporarily). With expectations of less political brinkmanship and lower policy uncertainty ahead, consensus projections foresaw faster, more inclusive economic growth.

In turn, faster growth was expected to revitalize the labor market, counteract worsening income inequality, mollify concerns about debt and deficit levels, and enable the Federal Reserve to start normalizing monetary policy in an orderly fashion. It would also facilitate a return by Congress to more normal economic governance – whether passing an annual budget, something not accomplished in four years, or finally taking steps to enhance rather than impede growth and job creation.