Republicans lose budget battle, but US fiscal war may continue

(By Deutsche Welle) In the last-minute deal that averted a default, Republicans won no substantive concessions from the White House. After taking a hit in the polls, the Grand Old Party is licking its wounds and contemplating what’s next.

For more than two weeks, Republicans went to the mat in Washington’s latest partisan fiscal battle in a push to defund President Barack Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act (ACA). But on Wednesday, the Tea Party caucus couldn’t hold the line any longer, with many moderate Republicans agreeing to cut their losses and support a bill to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling through the New Year.

“We fought the good fight, we just didn’t win,” Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner told conservative radio talk show host Bill Cunningham in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Under Wednesday’s agreement, the federal government will receive funding through January 15, while the debt ceiling has been raised until February 7. In exchange, Republicans secured only a token concession, which tightens income verification rules for Americans applying for health care subsidies under the ACA.

“Our drive to stop the train wreck that is the president’s health care law will continue,” Boehner said in a press release.

Although Boehner had encouraged his party to support the bill that the president would eventually sign, only 87 Republicans heeded the speaker’s call and voted for it. In the Senate, where the bill originated, 18 Republicans cast their ballots in favor of the legislation.

“The real question going forward is the same question as this time,” Theda Skocpol, author of “The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism,” told DW. “When will other Republicans, conservatives who want to operate within normal governing procedures, when are they going to stand up to these folks?”

Continue reading

Demographics force US immigration reform

(By Deutsche Welle) Once an issue that polarized the US, immigration reform now enjoys growing bipartisan support. Democrats and Republicans are negotiating a path to legalization, and perhaps citizenship, for 11 million illegal immigrants.

With Congress on recess for spring break, US President Barack Obama has pushed the House and Senate to finish the job of drafting comprehensive immigration reform by April, calling on both political parties to capitalize on recent bipartisan progress toward a deal.

“We are making progress. But we’ve go to finish the job, because this issue is not new,” the president said recently during a citizenship ceremony¬†at the White House for 28 new Americans. “Everybody pretty much knows what’s broken; everybody knows how to fix it.”

After years of polarization over how to deal with America’s 11 million unauthorized immigrants, support for a bipartisan deal has gained momentum since President Obama’s victory in the November presidential election.

Republican Senator Rand Paul Рa key figure in the conservative Tea Party movement Рhas spoken out in favor of legalization, revealing a potential game-changing shift within the Republican Party in favor of immigration reform.

“Prudence, compassion and thrift all point us toward the same goal: bringing these workers out of the shadows and into becoming and being taxpaying members of society,” Paul told the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

He was just the latest member of the Republican Party, which took a hard-line toward illegal immigrants during the presidential campaign, to signal an opening for a bipartisan deal.

Both Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and Republican House Speaker John Boehner have expressed support for the negotiations of the so-called “Gang of Eight,” a bipartisan group of senators hammering out immigration reform legislation. Meanwhile, Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer has said that the group is “very close to agreement.”

“Nobody would have ever anticipated the discussion to be starting at a new starting point, that key Republicans are on board for a comprehensive overhaul and for a legalization program,” Audrey Singer, an expert on immigration with the Brookings Institute, told DW.

Continue reading

Romney banks on Ryan to shore up conservative base

(By Deutsche Welle) In an era of deep partisanship in the US, Mitt Romney has chosen rising conservative star Paul Ryan as his running mate. Romney is hoping that the party base can deliver him with the White House.

With the Republican Party convention in Tampa, Florida less than a week away, presumed presidential candidate Mitt Romney has sought to unite a party badly bruised during a brutal primary process by selecting conservative icon Paul Ryan as his running mate.

“The old Romney was a moderate centrist Republican who would not have liked a Paul Ryan type figure,” Darrell West, an expert on US domestic politics at the Brookings Institute in Washington D.C., told DW.

“But the political landscape has changed dramatically and Romney has concluded that he has to move to the right to win this election,” West said. “The new Romney is much more conservative than the old Romney was.”

According to Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, although Romney’s rightward pivot has electrified the Republican Party, it carries serious pitfalls that could alienate him with centrist voters in November.

“Given that Ryan represents a much more hard-edged kind of conservatism on social issues as well as on economic issues, it is a gamble – a very large gamble,” Ornstein told DW.

Continue reading

Tea Party grapples with US role in the Middle East

(By Deutsche Welle) As the Republican presidential primary intensifies and turmoil in the Mideast simmers, Tea Party candidates are venturing beyond their focus on the economy and articulating their views on America’s role in the world.

As the Republican presidential primary gets into full swing, the grassroots conservative Tea Party movement has made its voice heard at an early stage. In Iowa, populist candidate Michele Bachmann and libertarian Ron Paul came in first and second respectively in a preliminary poll seen as a test of campaign strength, beating out establishment candidates such as Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who subsequently quit the contest.

Although foreign policy has been largely overshadowed by the dismal state of the American economy, political upheaval in the Middle East has forced increasingly prominent Tea Party-associated candidates to articulate clearer positions on the US role in the world as the battle for front-runner status escalates.

“The Tea Party did not arise out of a concern with foreign policy,” Stephen Walt, an expert on US foreign policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, told Deutsche Welle.

“You haven’t seen them articulate or weigh in a well-defined foreign policy position in the way you have seen them weigh in on the budget battle and on health care.”

Continue reading

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