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"The breakthrough has been made"

02.08.2011 - Interview

The Coordinator for Transatlantic Cooperation, Harald Leibrecht, on the compromise reached in the US debt ceiling debate

Interview with Harald Leibrecht, the new Coordinator for Transatlantic Cooperation, on the compromise reached in the US debt ceiling debate. Published in the Tagesspiegel on 2 August 2011

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Mr Leibrecht, you’ve just returned from your first visit to the USA in your new role as Transatlantic Coordinator. What was your impression of the budget debate there?

I spoke with a number of representatives from both parties in Congress. While I was there I got the feeling that their positions were very much entrenched. Particularly the conservative camp initially showed no willingness to compromise with President Obama. So I’m very pleased now to see that nonetheless a solution has been found

Did the agreement come as a surprise to you?

No, I’m not surprised. I expected that the factions would reach an agreement because that’s what they had to do.

You can’t have an election campaign starting this early at the expense of the American people and the global economy. In the run-up to the debt ceiling decision we were already seeing the financial markets reacting nervously to every statement the political leaders made. Insolvency is in the interest of neither the government nor the opposition in Washington.

So do you see the provisional agreement that was reached as a breakthrough?

I presume that the breakthrough has been made. There are certainly details that remain to be settled. But I also get the feeling that there are no real winners or losers. Both sides have fulfilled their responsibility in reaching a compromise. The debt ceiling is being raised, and at the same time a massive and highly ambitious austerity programme is being undertaken. And now Obama also needs to address other issues such as very high unemployment.

But we probably won’t the see higher taxes for rich Americans that Obama had called for. Isn’t the President showing some weakness here?

On this issue it was above all the Tea Party, the far-right wing of the Republican Party, that came out on top. However, this doesn’t mean that the President is weak, but rather that he’s willing to compromise. He had already made several previous attempts to reach a deal. Abandoning higher taxes was the price he had to pay. But we can’t forget that now the debt ceiling isn’t going to play as big a role in the 2012 election as initially feared.

Has the international image of the USA suffered for this debate?

Conflict is a part of politics and when it comes to an issue as serious as raising the debt ceiling you really need intensive debate. The two parties just had very different approaches from the outset.

This interview was conducted by Elisa Simantke. Reproduced by kind permission of the Tagesspiegel newspaper.

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