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Gridlock: The White House portrays Republican House Speaker John Boehner (right) as intransigent, but he is fighting a desperate rearguard action

Americans often boast that their Constitution is one of the jewels of the 18th-century Enlightenment, created by Founding Fathers who understood the need for the separation of powers between the different branches of government. On the whole, they are right to be proud of such a remarkable document. Yet when, as is the case today with the Obama White House, the Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate, there is a profound ideological disagreement over something as fundamental as taxation, the US Constitution also provides the perfect instrument for ensuring national gridlock. With powers so perfectly balanced and sternly separated by those bewigged genius Framers of 1783, the American system can all too easily grind itself into a political and economic deadlock that could never have been their intention.

A supple, good-natured president with a genuinely bipartisan approach and a willingness to compromise can reach across the aisle and avoid having the government of America completely seize up under his administration. "Good ol' boy" presidents such as LBJ and Bill Clinton managed it, as did the more rebarbative Richard Nixon. Both Bushes got by well enough, and although Ronald Reagan had some difficult moments — in 1985 Senator Warren Rudman described his own across-the-board budget cuts as "a bad idea whose time has come" — he never had to face the kind of sequester nightmare that Barack Obama has quite deliberately designed for himself.

For all that it might blight the second term of Obama's presidency, the sequester — amounting to $85 billion in automatic spending cuts levelled equally across government agencies — was his own idea. The concept of a massive sequestering of federal funds regardless of merit was considered by the administration to be so unacceptable to politicians that it was passed into law in the Budget Control Act of July 2011 as a means of terrifying the Republicans into coming up with tax hikes in order to prevent it ever going into effect. The New York Post's typically forthright headline about Obama: "He Did It To Himself", is completely accurate, therefore. Nor did Obama get the Republican leadership to agree to tax increases before instituting the sequester.

This did not prevent the administration getting unpleasantly aggressive when the veteran investigative journalist Bob Woodward revealed in the Washington Post that the president himself was "moving the goal posts" by demanding "a substitute for the sequester include not just spending cuts but also new [tax] revenue". Gene Sperling, the chief economic adviser to the President, shouted at Woodward when the journalist phoned up to double-check his facts, and then sent an email saying: "I do truly think you should rethink your comment. I think you will regret staking out that claim." The threat of denial of future White House access, the lifeblood of any journalist, was implicit in Sperling's email, but he badly overreached himself trying to blackmail the man who broke the Watergate story and wrote All the President's Men. Woodward simply published Sperling's email on the Politico website, thereby drawing much more attention to the White House's failed cover-up, for which Sperling then had to apologise on TV.

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May 8th, 2013
4:05 PM
Geez, talk about scare tactics! This article is obviously coming from the Right, and is also obviously designed to scare the bejeezus out of anyone who spends the 10 minutes it takes to read the damn thing. Tsk, tsk.

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