Will a libertarian ever become president

USA political system

Josef Braml

Dr. Josef Braml has been a research assistant in the USA / Transatlantic Relations program of the German Society for Foreign Policy (DGAP) in Berlin since October 2006. He is also the editor of the "International Politics Yearbook". Previously, he was a research associate at the Science and Politics Foundation (2002-2006), project manager at the Aspen Institute Berlin (2001), visiting scholar at the German-American Center (2000), consultant at the World Bank (1999), guest scholar at the Brookings Institution (1998 -1999), Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association (APSA) and Legislative Advisor to the US House of Representatives (1997-1998). Training stations: Vocational training as a banker; Military service engineer battalion 240; Abitur via the second educational path; Semester abroad at the Université de Nice - Sophia Antipolis; Languages, economic and cultural studies (diploma) at the University of Passau (1997); Doctorate in political science as the main subject and sociology and French cultural studies as minor subjects at the University of Passau (2001).
His areas of expertise:
American Concepts of the World Order and Transatlantic Relations; US security, energy and trade policy; Economic and domestic political framework conditions of American foreign policy; Comparative governance analysis, including German and US government system; Religion and Politics in the USA
Contact: [email protected], https://dgap.org/de/think-tank/experten/203

Domestic and foreign policy challenges put the superpower USA under pressure to act. The success of their actions will depend on whether the political blockade can be overcome.

(& copy Klaus Stuttmann)


The political impotence of Barack Obama is linked by many observers to his person and biography. The incumbent president is a little reminiscent of Jimmy Carter, who had even less political experience than Obama before he took office. In contrast to Lyndon B. Johnson, for example, who was able to put his many years of experience and personal contacts as a member of parliament, senator and vice president into the balance in the dispute with Congress, both have more or less reached the highest office in the USA as political novices. However, this view, which historians in particular are fixated on the personality cult of the powerful, ignores the fact that US presidents do not rule alone in a political vacuum and gather a seasoned advisory team around them. The main reasons for the political jam (gridlock) in Washington are the enormous social and economic structural problems that Obama's "great predecessors" left him with, as well as the fundamental changes in the political framework that have made governance almost impossible.

In the current power constellation, the President and Congress are hardly in a position to at least solve the acute problems - be it defusing the ticking debt bomb, reviving the economy, promoting free trade, sustainably alleviating environmental and energy problems or in the Foreign policy to maintain a liberal world order. On the contrary: the economic weakness is deepening the ideological rifts between Democrats and Republicans. This increases the dysfunctionality and undermines the legitimation of the government system and the government's ability to act.

Since the 2010 midterm elections, Democrats and Republicans have been unable to compromise on important issues. Many Republicans are close to the Tea Party movement and need their support in order to be re-elected. The supporters of the Tea Party, however, operate fundamentally opposition, so that, among other things, Congress and the White House, namely negotiator John Boehner and Barack Obama, were unable to agree on a compromise when the debt ceiling was raised in the summer of 2011. Political ineptitude ultimately forced American rating agencies to downgrade the United States' creditworthiness.

A representative poll by the Washington Post on August 9, 2011 revealed how much the US people's basic trust in their government has been shaken, according to which eight out of ten respondents were dissatisfied with the way the political system works or no longer works is working. Seven out of ten respondents agreed with the reason given by the rating agency Standard & Poor’s that their system of government had become "less stable, more ineffective and less predictable". Just as many potential voters have little or no hope that the Washington administration can solve the country's economic problems. (www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/polls/postpoll_080911.html)

This Herculean task becomes all the more difficult as the President's room for maneuver is massively restricted by the blocking power of the Congress - in particular by its budgetary approval right, the power of the purse. All in all, coping with the financial, economic and infrastructure problems will cost a lot of money that the USA lacks due to the dire budget situation.

The mountain of debt

Barack Obama has inherited a difficult legacy: an extremely poor economic situation and empty budget coffers. George W. Bush's butter-and-cannon policy, that is, tax cuts despite immense war spending, had put a heavy strain on the state budget. Billions in rescue and funding programs were also launched under Obama's leadership to resolve the greatest economic and financial crisis since the 1930s.

The 2008 budget year marked a record deficit of $ 459 billion. In 2009 the shortfall was more than three times that: $ 1,413 billion. In the following two years, the state budget was again overdrawn by about $ 1,300 billion each time. In the 2012 budget year, which ended on September 30, 2012, the budget deficit was over $ 1,100 billion.

As deficits continued to accumulate in the billions every year, the total debt ceiling, which had already been raised by Congress to $ 14 trillion in February 2010, had to be raised again in 2011. But in the summer of 2011 at the latest, in the course of the dispute over raising the debt ceiling, it became clear that the political system was blocked. The fact that such an action, which was routinely carried out in the past, turned into a violent political dispute this time illustrates the seriousness of the situation. Even the threats by the rating agencies to downgrade the creditworthiness of the USA did not bring the political opponents to reason. In August 2011 Standard and Poor`s made its announcement true and downgraded the creditworthiness of the USA from AAA to AA +.

US Budget Deficits and Surpluses 1980-2012 - US Debt
After months of unsuccessful tug-of-war that kept the financial markets in constant turmoil, President Obama was able to sign the Budget Control Act in early August 2011. As the name of the law suggests, the increase in the debt ceiling by initially 900 billion dollars is also associated with spending cuts: a total of 2,400 billion dollars is to be saved over the next ten years. However, the non-partisan group of MPs and senators, which was initially set up to determine the first savings targets, initially amounting to $ 1,500 billion, was unable to agree on specific proposals by the agreed deadline, November 23, 2011. For this reason, an automatic mechanism came into force in March 2013 that carries out cuts based on the lawnmower principle (sequestiation) across all budget headings, in the social and military sectors.

The drastic spending cuts and the uncertainty as to how long these cuts will last threaten to deprive consumers of purchasing power and buying mood and to slow down the economy. In addition, state employees had to be sent on unpaid compulsory leave by their employers because the opposing parties could not even agree on a transitional budget towards the end of the budget year (September 30). Most government business was shut down for 16 days, which, according to calculations by non-partisan research institutes, would have cost the country around $ 24 billion in economic output and over 120,000 jobs over the year as a whole. (White House / Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Impacts and Costs of the October 2013 Federal Government Shutdown, Washington, DC, November 2013, pp. 2 ff .; http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default /files/omb/reports/impacts-and-costs-of-october-2013-federal-government-shutdown-report.pdf)

After the fall into the so-called fiscal cliff was averted at the last minute in autumn 2013, the next showdown between President and Congress is inevitable at the beginning of 2014. Once again, the total debt ceiling must be raised. In the long run, however, there is no way around reducing the heavy national debt burden.

In order to find an agreement with President Obama, who, spurred on by his re-election, is now even less prepared than before to expect his party comrades in Congress to cut spending, John Boehner, the ailing party leader of the Republicans in the House of Representatives, would have to wrest more income, i.e. tax increases, from his people. But especially the libertarian Republicans close to the Tea Party want to solve the debt problem by only cutting spending.

The Republicans, patronized and financed by the grandees of the Tea Party movement, would commit "political suicide", especially with higher tax rates, especially since many of them have publicly sworn an oath against tax increases. According to the functional logic of the political (electoral) system and political financing, US MPs are political sole proprietorships, not party soldiers. Threatened by possible opposing candidates - financed by anti-state political action committees and particular interests - in the primaries for the November 2014 congressional elections, many of these MPs will initially think about their own survival and less about the public perception of their party, which, according to surveys, is a majority blamed for failure of budgetary policy.

Since the mid-term elections in 2010 at the latest, the debt burden has become politically explosive. At that time, Republican elected officials who had voted for Bush's 700 billion rescue plan were already being pilloried by the libertarian supporters and challengers of the Tea Party movement. To a larger extent, however, those fiscal conservative democrats, the so-called Blue Dogs, were punished on election day, who had to run for re-election in constituencies with a more fiscal conservative constituency. Even longtime MPs like Defense Committee Chairman Ike Skelton and Budgets Committee Chairman John Spratt saw their 34- and 28-year terms suddenly come to an end.