US dollar’s ‘exorbitant privilege’ at risk as Congress flirts with default

(By Deutsche Welle) The US has brought itself close to another self-inflicted fiscal crisis, with the government in shutdown and Congress flirting with default. The volatility could undermine confidence in the dollar as a safe haven.

Since the end of World War II, international investors have looked at the US dollar as a safe bet, reassured by the full faith and credit of Uncle Sam. In hard times, they parked their money in US Treasury bills to ride out the storm. But these days, Washington is not looking as reliable as it once did to some investors.

With Democrats and Republicans unable to compromise on a spending bill, the federal government shut down for the first time in 17 years. And Republicans have once again used the debt ceiling as leverage in budget negotiations with President Barack Obama, risking a default on US debt obligations, which could have a major impact on investor confidence.

Even a short-term compromise to raise the debt ceiling through the Thanksgiving holidays wouldn’t necessarily stave off the danger. In the summer of 2011, the threat of a default alone provoked ratings agencies to downgrade the US for the first time in history.

“Nobody knows where that can end,” Axel Merk, president of the investment advisory firm Merk Funds, told DW. “We took the risk with Lehman, and it was pretty bad, but I don’t think we’ve seen anything in comparison with what could happen if the US was truly to decide to not pay on time.”

Continue reading

Advertisements

Little sign of progress on US debt deal

(By Deutsche Welle) Negotiations in Washington to raise the nation’s debt limit have faltered on the partisan political divide. Credit rating agencies and Asian countries have warned the US to adopt responsible fiscal policies.

Republicans and Democrats have reached an impasse in an escalating ideological battle over raising the US debt ceiling, with the rating agency Moody’s threatening to downgrade Washington’s credit worthiness if the two sides fail to find a compromise by August 2 – a move that could destabilize the global economy.

“It’s the foundation of our financial system,” US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said during a recent congressional hearing. “The notion that it would become suddenly unreliable and illiquid would throw shock waves through the entire global financial system.”

Tax increases versus spending cuts

Both political parties agree in principle that the US must increase its $14.29 trillion (9.8 trillion euros) debt ceiling in order to continue paying its bills and avoid a short-term default on its financial obligations. Negotiations, however, have reached a stalemate due to a partisan divide over the appropriate balance between taxes and spending cuts.

Republicans have preconditioned any debt limit increase on parallel cuts in spending while at the same time rejecting tax increases across the board. Democrats, meanwhile, have been reluctant to make cuts in social programs such as Medicare and Medicaid that could alienate their electoral base, proposing instead to raise taxes on wealthier Americans.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama appeared on track to bridge the divide through a “grand bargain” that would have included a $3 trillion reduction in spending and $1 trillion in tax increases. Rank-and-file Republicans led by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, however, rejected the deal due to the tax hikes.

In lieu of the politically risky “grand bargain,” Cantor reportedly called for a short-term solution rooted in spending cuts. Cantor’s proposal prompted Obama to dig in his heels against Republican demands in what has become a volatile game of political brinkmanship.

“The problem is that there is no party discipline,” Josef Braml, an expert on American politics at the German Council on Foreign Relations, told Deutsche Welle.

“Obama can’t get his liberals on board. On the other side, it’s difficult for Republicans to get the Tea Party guys involved because they would commit electoral suicide if they agreed to tax increases.”

Continue reading

US government shutdown could rattle fragile economy

(By Deutsche Welle) If the US House of Representatives fails to reach a compromise over budget cuts, the federal government will go unfunded and partially shutdown. A shutdown could shake global confidence in the fragile American economy.

Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives continued to lock horns over America’s budget deficit on Friday with a shutdown of the US government looming should the two sides prove unable to reach a compromise by midnight.

Republicans, buoyed by the fiscally conservative Tea Party movement, have called for drastic budget cuts over the next decade in order to reign in Washington’s ballooning debt. For the current fiscal year, Republicans are seeking some $40 billion (27 billion euros) in budget cuts.

Meanwhile, Democrats countered the Republican demand with $33 billion in reductions, arguing that deeper cuts could send America’s fragile economy into a tailspin just as it begins to work its way out of the worst crisis since the Great Depression in the 1930s.

President Obama met with Republican leader John Boehner and Democratic leader Harry Reid for emergency negotiations earlier this week. Although both sides of the political aisle said progress had been made toward compromise, a solution is outstanding.

“The only question is whether politics or ideology is going to get in the way of preventing a government shutdown,” Obama said in an unscheduled appearance in the White House press briefing room.

Continue reading