Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Debt Deal as a Cry for US Modesty

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Debt Deal as a Cry for US Modesty

Article excerpt

Both the debt deal and the raucous caucus way it came into being calls for a new modesty about the US role in the world.

The wrenching, hand-wringing way that Washington reached a debt deal - as well as the deal's details - may have one good effect: It could force the United States to become more modest about its role as a leader.

Modesty is certainly in order after the circuslike way that Congress and the White House finally raised the debt ceiling and avoided a historic US default. In fact, the political catharsis could be America's "Suez moment" - a realization that it isn't the power it once was. (During a 1956 crisis over the Suez Canal, Britain and France had to admit they were no longer imperial powers that could easily dictate events.)

Even President Obama, a leader who prefers to "lead from behind," threw up his hands at this example of "dysfunctional government."

His lament echoed comments from abroad. China saw the political brinkmanship as "dangerously irresponsible." Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin referred to US debt as a "parasite" on the global economy and the debt deal as simply delaying "a more systemic solution." France's Le Monde newspaper said the most powerful nation had become a "laughing stock."

Indeed, the world's preeminent economy may soon have its top AAA bond rating downgraded by Moody's or Standard & Poor's - despite the avoidance of a debt default.

Why? The deal goes only a short way to solve the fundamental financial problem: the coming surge in entitlement demands by baby boomers, especially in Medicare.

The pact will leave federal spending at more than a fifth of the US economy in 2021. And the percentage of the budget needed to pay the debt would still be third-world status.

Congress also abdicated its political responsibility by leaving the heavy lifting to a "Gang of 12," or a supercommittee of Republican and Democratic lawmakers tasked with finding $1. …

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