Swiss papers unimpressed by US politicians

A barrier blocks the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial in Washington on Tuesday, as national parks were closed due to the budget battle Keystone

“Both sides have failed” in the government shutdown in the United States, according to the Tages-Anzeiger on Wednesday. Other papers agreed, referring to events in Washington as a “ritualised blame game”.

This content was published on October 2, 2013 - 11:06

“Nine out of ten Americans are unsatisfied with Congress. And who can blame them?” asked the Tages-Anzeiger in Zurich, whose main article had the headline “Low-power superpower”.

“A parliament which without good reason causes the functioning of government to stop has really messed up. Only a really eccentric enemy of the central state can crack open the champagne given closed counters and unpaid wages,” it wrote.

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans came no closer to ending a standoff that has forced the first government shutdown in 17 years and thrown hundreds of thousands of federal employees out of work.

Obama accused Republicans of taking the government hostage in order to sabotage his signature health care law, the most ambitious US social programme in five decades.

Republicans view the Affordable Care Act as a dangerous extension of government power and have coupled their efforts to undermine it with continued government funding. The Democratic-controlled Senate has repeatedly rejected those efforts.

“It’s clear that the Republicans’ demands were blackmailing and undemocratic: the opposition can’t force through what it wants having failed by the usual methods or at the ballot box,” said the Tages-Anzeiger.

“But you can hardly slap the Democrats on the shoulder for resisting. Congress ought to have found a bipartisan way to prevent this shutdown.”

The paper added that the standoff had raised new concerns about Congress’s ability to perform its most basic duties. An even bigger battle looms as Congress must raise the debt limit in coming weeks or risk a US default that could roil global markets (see box).

Shutdown consequences

A week-long shutdown would slow US economic growth by about 0.3 percentage points, according to Goldman Sachs, but a longer disruption could weigh on the economy more heavily as furloughed workers scale back personal spending.

The most recent shutdown in 1995 and 1996 cost taxpayers $1.4 billion (CHF1.27 billion), according to congressional researchers.

The political crisis raised fresh concern about whether Congress can meet a crucial mid-October deadline to raise the government’s $16.7 trillion debt ceiling. Some Republicans see that vote as another opportunity to undercut Obama’s healthcare law.

Failure to raise the debt limit would force the country to default on its obligations, dealing a blow to the economy and sending shockwaves around global markets.

A 2011 standoff over the debt ceiling hammered consumer confidence and prompted a first-ever downgrade of the United States’ credit rating.

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‘Political spectacle’

"The worrying paralysis of Washington” was the headline in Le Temps in Geneva, which also noted that this was hardly the first government shutdown.

“But the one caused on Monday by the Capitol’s inability to agree on a budget for the coming tax year could have much more serious consequences [than the previous 17],” it said, pointing to the debt ceiling.

The Basler Zeitung wasn’t so negative, describing the shutdown as primarily a “political spectacle” and that “in the end there’ll be an agreement – as always”.

“Some European correspondents are saying we’re on the verge of financial Armageddon. Taken with the idea that America – and above all the Republicans – has gone mad, they’re painting a picture of a country that, through its own fault, has manoeuvred itself to the edge of the abyss.”

The reality, it pointed out, was that shutdowns have been a Washington custom for decades – “a political show in which both sides try, in a sort of ritualised blame game, to portray themselves as the voice of reason and the other side as irresponsible”.

“An agreement will also be reached this time – as with the previous shutdowns. At the end of the day, the show must go on.”

‘Crazy tactic’

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) even saw the shutdown as a present for Obama, believing that with the “malicious” closure of parts of the administration, the Republicans had got “politically carried away” and would pay the price.

It noted that Republicans had voted more than 40 times to repeal or delay Obamacare, “none with the slightest chance of success”.

“Part of living in a democracy means accepting defeats – in the knowledge that, if necessary, democracy offers the chance to correct decisions later, at the next election. On the other hand the Republicans’ attempts to more or less hold the government hostage until supporters of health reform lay down their arms are basically blackmail,” it said.

“What advantage the Republicans hope to gain from this crazy tactic remains a mystery. While with previous budget disputes they managed to squeeze concessions out of Obama, this time the situation is different: this time their demands amount to Obama agreeing to throw out his most significant domestic achievement. That’s never going to happen.”

The NZZ concluded that the Republicans were going to pay for their miscalculation. “Thirteen months ahead of the next Congressional elections, they couldn’t give the Democrats a better gift.”

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