US politicians brawling on the edge of a cliff

America’s political class look like kids in a playground as they argue over the budget.

Politicians are blaming each other for the US government shutdown which started on 1 October, but the big question when brawling on the edge of a cliff is not, Who is right?' but What the hell are you doing on the edge of a cliff?' says The Economist.

The shutdown itself shouldn't cause too much disruption or economic damage in the short term some 800,000 non-essential staff out of a 4.3 million workforce have been sent home but it is the "symptom of a deeper problem: the federal lawmaking process is so polarised that it has become paralysed". If the Republicans and the Democrats cannot "bridge their differences" by 17 October, the day when the US reaches its legal borrowing limit, "disaster looms".

Unless Congress raises the debt ceiling (as it has done 74 times before), America will either have to default on its debts, the repercussions of which would be both "global and unpredictable" (see page 6), or it would have to slash spending so deeply that it could cause a recession.

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The reason for the standoff is Obamacare. The Republicans are refusing to budge unless Barack Obama defunds or delays his health care reforms. John Boehner, the Republican leader, says there is no alternative to negotiation, but Obama says that negotiating under threat of economic calamity is untenable.

He is certainly not about to jettison his prized legislation in exchange for "an agreement to fund the government for a little bit longer", says The Economist. To allow House Republicans to "rule by intimidation would also set a terrible precedent".

The roots of this "lie far more in an internal dispute within the Republican party than they do in a battle between Democrats and Republicans", says Gary Younge in The Guardian. On one side are the "dwindling number" of moderates; on the other are the Tea Party hardliners who believe the Grand Old Party establishment has compromised too often.

It's not obvious how these trends can be checked, but until they are, America's political class look more like kids in a playground than "elders in the shining city". Polls show that a huge majority of voters disapprove of the shutdown, with far more blaming the Republicans than the Democrats.

If Boehner does not want to "go down in history as the first speaker to permit a US sovereign default", or the one who helped "turn Republicans into pariahs", he must end the crisis, says John Plender in the Financial Times. He should, agrees Gideon Rachman, also in the FT.

America has repeatedly survived "careless behaviour" and this has "bolstered the inward-looking complacency in Washington", but it won't always be so lucky. If it "crashes through the debt barrier" it could move overnight into a "form of forced austerity of the kind that has caused deep recessions in Greece and Spain". But in this instance it would be self-inflicted. "That really would be careless."