|Mohamed El-Erian, head of Pimco|
Instead, we have demonstrated to ourselves, the world and global markets that our political system is broken and that we are incapable of conceiving and implementing sensible public policy. What we have instead is the prospect of more late-night cliff-hangers, extreme tactics, budget guillotines, filibusters and presidential vetoes. It makes for good TV news specials, but it is a sorry picture of how the world’s leading country governs itself.
Over the past three decades, this pattern has persisted, with a few exceptions at the federal level. Tax hikes and spending restraint under George H.W. Bush and even more so under Bill Clinton brought the problem under control and in the late Clinton years even produced a budget surplus. Then came the George W. Bush tax cuts, expanded health care benefits and two wars—all unpaid for—without any tax increases. The result: the surplus disappeared, and by 2008, the debt had ballooned to $10 trillion. The final blow was the financial crisis and recession, which meant that federal tax revenues collapsed, followed by more tax cuts and stimulus spending. The debt rose to its current $14.3 trillion.
ome of those best practices used to be American. The world once looked at America with awe as we built the interstate highway system, created the best public education in the world, put a man on the moon and invested in the frontiers of knowledge. That is not how the world sees America today. People watched what happened over the past month and could not comprehend it. We have taken something that the world never doubted—the credibility of the U.S.—and put it into question. From now on, every time the debt ceiling has to be debated, the world will wonder, Will America honor its commitments? Will it keep its word? Will the system break down? We have taken our most precious resource, the trust of the world, and gambled with it. If, as a result of these congressional antics, interest rates on America’s debt rise by 1% —in other words, if the world asks for just a little bit more interest to lend us money—the budget deficit will rise by $1.3 trillion over 10 years. That would more than wipe out the entire 10 years of cuts proposed in the debt deal. That’s the American system at work these days.