News / USA

US Congress Enters Crucial Week in Battles Over Budget, Debt Limit

FILE - The US flag flies next to the Capitol in Washington, as Congress and the Obama Administration continue work to open the government and raise the debt ceiling.
FILE - The US flag flies next to the Capitol in Washington, as Congress and the Obama Administration continue work to open the government and raise the debt ceiling.
Reuters
As the U.S. government moved into the second week of a shutdown on Monday with no end in sight, a deadlocked U.S. Congress also confronted an Oct. 17 deadline to increase the nation's borrowing power or risk default.
 
Republican House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner vowed not to raise the U.S. debt ceiling without a “serious conversation” about what is driving the debt, while Democrats said it was irresponsible and reckless to raise the possibility of a U.S. default.
 
The last big confrontation over the debt ceiling, in August 2011, ended with an 11th-hour agreement under pressure from  shaken markets and warnings of an economic catastrophe if there was a default.
 
A similar last-minute resolution remained a distinct possibility this time as well.
 
In comments on Sunday television political talk shows, neither Republicans nor Democrats offered any sign of impending agreement on either the shutdown or the debt ceiling, and both blamed the other side for the impasse.
 
“I'm willing to sit down and have a conversation with the president,” said Boehner, speaking on ABC's “This Week.”  But, he added, U.S. President Barack Obama's “refusal to negotiate is putting our country at risk.”
 
On CNN's “State of the Union” program, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said: “Congress is playing with fire,” adding that Obama would not negotiate until “Congress does its job” by reopening the government and raising the debt ceiling.
 
Equities investors were unnerved by the apparent hardening of stances over the weekend, with European shares falling to a four-month low on Monday. U.S. stock futures pointed to lower open on Wall Street, with S&P 500 futures futures down nearly 1 percent.
 
China, the biggest holder of U.S. Treasuries, urged Washington to take decisive steps to avoid a crisis and ensure the safety of Chinese investments.
 
“The United States is totally clear about China's concerns about the fiscal cliff,”  Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao said in the Chinese government's first public comment on the Oct. 17 deadline.
 
“We hope the United States fully understands the lessons of history,” Zhu told reporters in Beijing, referring to the downgrade of the U.S. credit rating by Standard & Poor's in 2011.
 
China held $1.277 trillion of U.S. Treasuries as of last July, according to U.S. Treasury data released month.
 
“Who should be worrying most of a possible U.S. default?” asked Deutsche Bank analysts.
 
“Looking at the top holders of U.S. Treasuries, recipients of U.S. social security should be most concerned, followed by the Fed and then China.”
 
“In theory, the first group can pressure congress and end up with other funds to fill the gap left by Treasury losses. Meanwhile the Fed has a money printing press to cover any losses, so that leaves the Chinese with a dilemma.”
 
In early trading Monday, the price of U.S. Treasury notes , a benchmark of the bond markets, rose about 0.2 percent after closing lower on Friday.
 
The dollar index, which measures the greenback's value against a basket of widely traded currencies, fell 0.2 percent.

Shutdown, debt celing issues merged
 
The two issues of the Federal government shutdown and the debt ceiling started out separately in the House but have been merged by the pressure of time.
 
Conservative Republicans in the House have resisted funding the government for the current fiscal year until they extract concessions from Obama that would delay or defund his signature healthcare law, which launched Oct. 1.
 
Many of the conservatives want a similar condition placed on raising the debt ceiling, but in his list of debt-ceiling demands Sunday, Boehner did not mention the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.
 
“It's time to talk about the spending problem,” said Boehner, including measures to rein in costs of entitlement programs such as the Social Security retirement system and Medicare, the government-run health insurance program for seniors.
 
Harry Reid, leader of the Democratic-led Senate, is expected to decide soon on whether to try to open formal debate on a “clean” bill, without extraneous issues attached, to raise the U.S. Treasury's borrowing authority.
 
Passage of such a measure would require at least six of the Senate's 46 Republicans to join its 54 Democrats in order to overcome potential procedural hurdles that opponents of Obamacare could erect.
 
According to one Senate Democratic aide, the debt limit hike might be coupled with a new initiative to reform the U.S. tax code and achieve long-term savings in Social Security and Medicare, whose expenses have soared along with the population of retirees.
 
Republican lawmakers have floated other ideas, such as a very short debt limit increase, which would create time for more negotiations at the expense of further market uncertainty, and repeal of a medical device tax.
 
The tax is expected to generate some $30 billion over 10 years to help pay for healthcare insurance subsidies under Obamacare.
 
Some Democrats favor repealing the tax, but they insist that replacement revenues be found and repeal be considered only after the government reopens and the debt limit is raised.

Major problems in house
 
Agreement in the Senate would send the snarl of issues back into the House, where the Republican caucus has adopted a hard line on both Obamacare and the debt ceiling.
 
There may be enough votes in the House to pass a clean bill, according to some analysts. That would require almost all of the House's 200 Democrats and about 20 of its 232 Republicans to vote in favor. But taking such a vote would require Speaker Boehner to violate his policy against bringing a vote on any legislation favored by less than a majority of House Republicans.
 
In any case, neither side is moving toward accommodation, and the stakes rise with the passage of time.
 
For any deal to work, negotiators probably would have to choreograph a multipronged approach that allows all sides to declare victory, even if it is one that sets up another battle in mid-November or December.
 
While the shutdown itself is unlikely to cause major disruption in the markets, a fight over the debt ceiling could. From July 31 thru Aug 2 during the debt-limit standoff in 2011, the S&P 500 index lost 3 percent, and the deadlock led to a downgrade of the U.S. credit rating to AA-plus from AAA by S&P.
 
The outlooks from Moody's and S&P, the only agency so far to have lowered its rating on U.S. debt, are both at “stable,” but Fitch Ratings has indicated a negative outlook for the U.S. debt rating.
 
All three agencies have said the U.S. debt profile has improved substantially over the past two years, with gross domestic product growth, while slow, proving to be persistently positive and the budget deficit trending lower.
 
Fitch said in a note last week that the U.S. rating is at risk in the current showdown over the debt ceiling because failure to raise it sufficiently in advance of the deadline, raises questions about the full faith and credit of the United States to honor its obligations.
 
Political gridlock remains the greatest risk to the U.S. outlook, Fitch said in the note on Oct. 1, the first day of the partial government shutdown.
 
“This 'faith' is a key underpinning of the U.S. dollar's global reserve currency status and reason why the US 'AAA' rating can tolerate a substantially higher level of public debt than other 'AAA' sovereigns,” Fitch said.
 
Investors have so far been relatively sanguine about the approaching debt ceiling deadline, but market measures of anxiety, such as the Chicago Board Options Exchange's Volatility Index, have begun trending up since the shutdown began last Tuesday. The VIX rose 18 percent last week and briefly hit its highest level since June.

You May Like

Photogallery Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa More

Multimedia Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

Refugees receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed More

India’s Ruling Nationalist Party Makes Gains in Regional Elections

Bharatiya Janata Party’s huge margin over its rivals puts it on course to form governments in the northern Haryana and western Maharashtra states More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid