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Lessons for Nigeria from the US sequester and fiscal cliff dodging

By Victor Ariole

All human beings are prince and princesses, but only very few know their kingdom. As a president, rule as if the people are ruling themselves. When power is needed, summon, and use it. When war is needed then rise and go to war in the highest way, and win in the quickest way, and use it to create better conditions for all… (BEN OKRI in STARBOOK)

USA, for now, rules the world. When it catches cold all countries in the world sneeze. So, anything happening to USA reverberates in the whole world. It is a phenomenon quite tasking to Obama and the USA Congress. How one would have wished that every government in the world could behave the same way and know that its activities reverberate within its sphere of influence and, so, act appropriately to keep its micro kingdom working.

President Obama’s style seems to be that of creating the future now, the way he approaches issues, so as to avoid being taken by surprise and, one sees it the way Professor Nurudeen Alao perceives it: no present in life, it is past or future. The best way to see the present is either to live in the past as your present – quite retrogressive – or create the future now to avoid embarrassment.

Agenda setting which ought to be the exclusive domain of informed press, as the required language aesthetics oblige, seem to be lacking in journalism. Obama knows how to create it and dramatise it to keep the Congress working for the good of Americans and the world in extension.

USA prefers to use sequester for belt tightening or budget cuts, and fiscal cliff for no allowance of greater budget deficit or accepting debt payment gap-bridging to avoid economic summersault; and it is suitable for a nation that dictates what happen in the world.

Till 2am Washington time of JANUARY 1, 2013, both OBAMA and USA CONGRESSMEN continued working to avoid what Americans have come to coin FISCAL CLIFF. That was language in action. So heavy a connotation that all attention was fixed at averting its consequences if the President was not allowed to go spending in the interest of USA.

The President, holding the remote control, set the Vice president in motion to press on clearing the fog in the Senate where the same vice president sits as the President of the Senate. That could be quite unimaginable in Nigeria for JONATHAN to send Mark on such an errand.

In effect it could never be Mark getting fellow Senators to know that the oil benchmark must not go beyond N75 so as to avoid Nigeria’s own fiscal overhang. In Nigeria’s case, it is accepting sequester as against more spending which is favoured by the Senate. The USA’s case is even unimaginable in Nigeria; Obama has been operating without a budget since 2009.

The approval he is seeking for, to avoid fiscal cliff, that is: avoiding USA not meeting its financial obligations to debtors, is raising USA debt ceiling so as to get money to pay obligations already entered to by Congress before 2009; like a recurrent expenditure – social welfare packages, payment on USA bonds, tax benefit refunds, Obamacare commitments, etc.

Beyond fiscal cliff which was merely avoiding failing to meet payment deadline entered into by government, another heavy language was at work to get the CONGRESS working on holiday, the SEQUESTER: aiming at cuts in different sectors of the government, especially the defence.

Indeed, while both fiscal cliff and sequester could diminish the esteem of Obama in the eyes of Americans the last word TAX MARK UP or raising tax for rich Americans was going to hurt his opponents, the Republicans. The speaker of the house, a republican, needed to buckle up and concede to Democrats demand so as to limit the spread to no fewer than 2% of the rich.

Indeed, it could only be on such tax that debt ceiling could be a negotiable item as tax payers would need to know what kind of spending their tax is going to go for. Creating more jobs is where both republicans and democrats agree. Hence the need for keeping the American “constant” alive, the American dream, land of opportunities.

As constant a value it is, allowing Americans to own arms in the name of keeping off the bad guys from owning or using arms as exclaimed by one of the National Rifles Association (NRA) members, it is also another republican interest never to be traded off.

Obama wants to reduce riches made out of gun running business which is a money minting business for the republicans. For the HOUSE SPEAKER, trade-off is part of congressional business as long as the basic constants of the American dream are not torched. Part of the constants are: do not discourage those making money – making money as venture capitalists and not vulture capitalists the way some perceived Romney; and do not stop die-hard republicans from owning arms – they could be die-hard republicans in either Democratic Party or Republican Party.

The speaker, also, desperately, needed to be voted back  which, in effect, happened on the 5th of January as the new 113th CONGRESS resumed and, according to him, in an emotional outburst, elected members must aim at what they can do for America and not what they want to be, using their presence in the Congress as a leverage.

This is indeed a lesson for Nigeria that claims it is practising the USA brand of democracy.

* ARIOLE is an  Associate Professor  at UNILAG


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