|US President Barack Obama (R) delivers a statement at the White House in Washington DC., the United States, Jan. 1, 2013. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a Senate bill Tuesday night, giving the final congressional approval to the bipartisan compromise to avert the "fiscal cliff". (Xinhua/Zhang Jun)
by Ming Jinwei
BEIJING, Jan. 2 (Xinhua) -- After coming too dangerously close to falling off the "fiscal cliff," U.S. politicians have finally come together and clinched a deal to avoid sharp tax increases and deep spending cuts that could affect millions of Americans and send the world's largest economy back into recession.
Late Tuesday night in Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama signed into law a bill passed by the Senate and House of Representatives to end a months-long drama that have exposed the ugliest side of U.S. partisan politics.
Many have long warned of the potential danger of the United States falling off the "fiscal cliff."
However, for some keen observers, the United States, with a total public debt of nearly 16.4 trillion U.S. dollars, has bigger fiscal challenges ahead.
The U.S. public debt, more than 100 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), makes the nasty sovereign debt crisis that has toppled many European governments and led to ugly street demonstrations in Greece look like a mere hiccup.
As the world's sole superpower, the United States is clearly not Greece. The greenback is still the dominating currency in the global monetary system. Washington can still borrow at low costs even when some smaller European economies are completely shut out of the global bond market.
But economics and common sense do not lie. People, or governments, can overspend for some time, but they simply cannot live on borrowed prosperity forever.
For the Americans, their government has been in the red for too long. Since 2002, Uncle Sam has not tasted any government surplus in over a decade as it borrows heavily to support costly wars in the Middle East and to stimulate the economy out of a recession in the wake of the global financial crisis.
The U.S. government has also issued hundreds of billions of IOUs to cover the ever expanding costs of the bloated entitlement programs.
With the "fiscal cliff" drama finally put behind us, both the United States and the world are now presented with a unique opportunity to debate the much-delayed issue of the long-term U.S. fiscal sustainability.
When U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke coined the term "fiscal cliff," he should also be aware of the 16.4-trillion hole in U.S. public finances.
If you call over 600 billion dollars of tax increases and spending cuts a "fiscal cliff," the total U.S. government debt has created nothing but a "fiscal abyss."
The most worrying thing about U.S. politicians is that if they have come so close to falling off a "cliff," they are far less likely to reach a deal to help their country climb out of an abyss.
In a democracy like the United States, tax increases and spending cuts, the exact dose of medicine needed to cure its chronic debt disease, have long proved hugely unpopular among voters. So the politicians have chosen to kick the can down the road again and again.
But as we all know, the can will never disappear. Sometime and somewhere, you might trip over it and fall hard on the ground, or in the U.S. case, into an abyss you can never come out of.