No quick solution like in Canada

Sometimes, perhaps even often, Europeans bundle America and Canada together – two big North American countries – and judge the two all the same. Undoubtedly, there are many similarities between the two, and Canada, as little brother, is both strongly tied to and deeply influenced by the United States.

But yesterday, when I watched Canadian Broadcasting via C-Span, I was reminded in a powerful way how different America and Canada are, and how European Canada is.

The Canadian Parliament was in session, and the debate was fierce, in both English and French, ending with a vote of no confidence, by 156 to 145. The Conservative government fell. The parties had been unable to agree on the budget, even if the formal vote was one of the government’s “contempt” for Parliament.

Such a vote had never happened before in Canadian history. The decision came quickly. The result was clear. Already on Saturday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper handed in his resignation and Parliament was dissolved. New elections will take place on May 2, and the voters will decide.

Watching all this, the Canadian/European parliamentary system looked pretty attractive from my perspective here in Washington with its messy political situation that never quite seems to get solved.  This country does not even have a budget for
this fiscal year, which is already six months old. And the budget for the next fiscal year, which starts on October 1 and which President Obama already has presented to Congress, has not yet been discussed at all.

In today’s troubled economic situation with its high debt and huge budget deficit, big and broad action is required. For that, political courage is needed in order to deal with the large issues, like defense, Medicare, Medicaid, social security, and, maybe, new  taxes. Until now no one, including Obama, has displayed that political courage.

Instead we get to experience small and temporary compromises on minor budget cuts, and, by now, six temporary increases of the debt ceiling – the last to keep the government running until April 8. And then?

Negotiations go on between the White House and Congress behind closed doors, but no one seems to want to show his cards, and it all drags on in a process that is draining for all, not the least on the patience of the voters, who show ever less confidence for Washington. But, with a Democratic President and a Congress where Democrats control the Senate and
Republicans control the House of Representatives, there is little hope for a quick and clear solution.

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