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Austerity’s limits: Will Congress notice?

trahant MARK


Three words to think about as we near the next budget fight on Capitol Hill: Austerity has limits.

As I have written often, I view the austerity trend as a global one, not a national debate. That’s important to remember because other countries are further along in their austerity implementation, policies that should give the U.S. Congress real examples of what works and what’s a disaster.

Italy’s soon-to-be former prime minister makes that case. “Public support for the reforms, and worse, for the European Union, is dramatically declining, following a trend which is also visible in many other countries across the union,” Mario Monti said in The Guardian newspaper. “To revive growth and fight long-term and youth unemployment would be the best message to counter the mounting wave of populism and disaffection with the European Union, showing that Europe is listening to people’s concerns.”

Anti-austerity efforts are gaining strength in the United Kingdom and Spain.

But the dumbest austerity action came last week in one of Europe’s tiniest countries, Cyprus.

As part of a bailout deal, that country’s government agreed to a tax on the savings accounts of its citizens ranging from 6.75 percent to 9 percent. The president of Cyprus said Sunday night it was either the tax or his country would have to leave the European Union and face national bankruptcy. “I chose the least painful option, and I bear the political cost for this, in order to limit as much as possible the consequences for the economy and for our fellow Cypriots,” Anastasiades said in The Global Post.

So the people of Cyprus rejected that policy and began withdrawing money as fast as they could before any such tax could be imposed; a classic run on the banks.

Cyprus and EU politicians are now looking for a Plan B, showing that austerity has its limits. (The Cyprus parliament postponed a vote on the bailout as a result.)

Of course all of this has nothing to do with the Congress — and the tribal governments across North America. Except that we are riding the same wave of austerity where governments are scrambling to balance competing ideals. On one hand, other countries, banks and investors want the money back that governments have borrowed. On the other hand hand, the people, the citizens, want their government to live up to the promises it has made (and, by the way, just don’t charge too much in taxes either).

Decades of congressional promises to tribes, to seniors, to other nations, now exceed the country’s political will to pay for those promises. The United States has treaty obligations to tribes that have been reduced to ordinary appropriations and, as a consequence, funded at levels that would not meet the test of an ordinary contract.

This week, the Senate’s version of a Continuing Resolution, money to fund the government for the rest of the year, will be released. According to Politico, this 587 page document has become a “magnet for scores of amendments” ranging from restoring specific sequester cuts (such as school constructionfunding for the Bureau of Indian Education) to foreign policy initiatives.

But consider what has to happen: The proposal itself must win enough bipartisan support to pass the Senate (60 votes, please). Then each amendment. Then that package has to reconcile against a very different House package. And then pass both Houses. And be completed by March 27.

The best solution might end up being a continuing resolution of a continuing resolution of the current continuing resolution; a temporary fix of a few more days or weeks. (The alternative being a government shutdown.) In other words: The Congress will take a long time to make up its mind. Then it will really move slowly.

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He lives in Fort Hall, Idaho, and is a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Join the discussion about austerity. A new Facebook page has been set up at:

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