The Realist Prism: A G-Zero Washington for a G-Zero World

The Realist Prism: A G-Zero Washington for a G-Zero World

What a difference between Election Day 2012 and today. In the immediate aftermath of his electoral victory, U.S. President Barack Obama seemed poised to start his second term of office with renewed energy and confidence. However, the euphoria of the president’s supporters has slowly but steadily eroded.

Despite his hopes that, with the election over, he could tackle the fiscal crisis that was looming over the country, Obama was unable to negotiate any lasting solution. Several months ago, I predicted that “Congress and the president may find some creative ways to postpone the scheduled sequestration” but that there would be no “grand compromise to put America’s fiscal house in order.” True to form, Congress passed and the president signed into law the “American Taxpayer Relief Act,” which kept intact most of the tax cuts passed at the beginning of former President George W. Bush’s first term, delayed the imposition of the sequester for two months and extended spending on matters such as unemployment insurance. With no spending cuts, and with only a fraction of the revenue that was anticipated had the Bush-era tax cuts expired, the deal is projected to add to the deficit and does nothing to address the growing imbalance between the revenues taken in by the federal government and its expenditures.

Congress and the president have delayed resolution of the weightier issue -- how to reconcile the gap between the government Americans want and the government they are willing to pay for -- until the spring, but, unlike fine wine, this problem does not improve with age. Nor does the new Congress, which was seated Thursday, carry the promise that a compromise is at hand. Moreover, because the last-minute New Year’s Day deal only buys the country two months before the same arguments over entitlement reform, further spending cuts and raising the debt limit once again take center stage, it means that the Obama administration will remain focused on these issues, with little attention to spare for addressing longer-term problems.

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