《经济学人》:违约杯具已避,跛脚政治风险犹存
日期:2011-08-19 10:59

(单词翻译:单击)

The debt-ceiling deal
债务上限协议达成

No thanks to anyone
无需感谢任何人

America has avoided default, but political dysfunction is threatening its chances of economic recovery
美国违约杯具已避 “跛脚”政治风险犹存

Aug 6th 2011 | WANSHINGTON,DC | from The Economist edition

THE deficit-reduction deal that finally raised America’s debt ceiling and staved off the threat of default seemed to make no one happy. “A sugar-coated Satan sandwich,” one Democratic congressman called it. Republican candidates for president lined up to denounce it.

减赤协议还是达成了,该协议最终决定提高美国的债务上限,以避开违约的风险。但貌似没人会笑得出来。“这不过是块裹了糖衣的撒旦三明治,”一位民主党众议员这样形容它。共和党的下届总统候选人也一致对协议进行了斥责。

But even less popular than the deal itself was the process that led up to it: months of partisan wrangling, broken deals and brinkmanship, with the threat of default hanging over an economy struggling to grow. “Our economy didn’t need Washington to come along with a manufactured crisis to make things worse,” Barack Obama noted as he signed the deal into law on August 2nd—the day the Treasury had warned that it would run out of cash to meet its obligations.

但是比这个协议本身还让人不满的是达成这个协议的过程:数月的党派纷争,各种协议和政策底线被随意践踏,还有高悬于脆弱经济头顶的违约威胁。“我们的经济不需要华盛顿这帮人凑过来给它添乱!”巴拉克•奥巴马在8月2日签署最终协议时这样说。这一天也是财政部之前警告过的履约现金告罄的日子。

The deal, hammered out just days before that deadline, promises $917 billion in spending cuts over the next decade in return for a two-stage increase in the debt ceiling of $900 billion. After that, a 12-member congressional committee, equally composed of Republicans and Democrats, is to find $1.5 trillion in further deficit reductions that Congress must approve by December 23rd, in return for a similar-sized increase in the debt ceiling. If the committee fails to reach agreement or its proposal is rejected, $1.2 trillion in spending cuts will be triggered, drawn equally from domestic spending and defence.

协议最终在大限之前数天敲定。该协议将债务上限提高两级,增加了9000亿美元,但前提是要确保未来十年间削减9170亿美元的开支。这之后,还要有一个由民主党共和党各六人组成的国会委员会,着手在12月23日之前整出一个1.5万亿美元的减赤方案并要获得国会通过。如果该委员会不能达成协议抑或其方案被否决,那么就将不得不从国内开支和国防费用中相应地削减1.2万亿美元。

This is far from a lasting solution to America’s climbing debt. Neither Republicans nor Democrats were forced to slaughter their sacred cows. Republicans kept higher taxes off the table, and Democrats did the same with the biggest entitlements: Medicaid (the federal-state health programme for the poor), Social Security (pensions) and most of Medicare, the federal health programme for the elderly. The deal also threatens to tighten fiscal policy further in 2012, when the recovery is still struggling to establish itself.

这对不断攀升的美国债务来说,远不是什么长久之计。无论是共和党还是民主党都为未被迫触及底线。共和党依旧反对将增税纳入议题,而民主党同样也不愿提及他们迄今最大的福利项目:包括医疗救助(联邦政府面向穷人的一向福利),社会保障金,社会保险(联邦政府面向老年人的健康保障项目)的大部。这项协议很可能导致2012年出现更为紧缩的财政政策,而那时美国的经济还依旧独自挣扎在恢复的边缘。

It marks, too, another deeply worrying change. The willingness of one party to use the threat of default, if not on government bonds then on other federal obligations such as pensions and pay-cheques, marked a dangerous escalation in the partisan rancour that has come to bedevil policymaking. It is not just big, controversial things like tax reform and climate change that fall victim to gridlock, but smaller, routine matters where disagreements are often slight. Since 2007 the Federal Aviation Administration has operated on no less than 20 short-term funding authorisations; the latest finally ran out on July 22nd because of a congressional dispute, forcing the layoff of thousands of workers and a halt to airport building projects (see article). Many regulatory positions remain vacant because Senate Republicans are blocking appointments to them. Free-trade agreements with Colombia, South Korea and Panama, supported by both parties, have been stalled because the Democrats want ratification linked to renewal of a worker-training programme and Republicans do not.

另外,此次事件还凸显了另一种隐忧。如果一党执意要用类似违约的手段来要挟对方,那么毫无疑问将加剧两党之间的敌意,而这又会导致政策制定过程中麻烦不断。更别说这还只是政府债券方面的问题,如果关系到联邦政府的其他义务,如养老金、现金支付等,人们将更加不胜其扰。不仅像税收、气候变化这些重大的、有争议的议题将由此陷入停摆,另外一些本来异议不是很大的鸡毛蒜皮的小事也将会被整得天翻地覆。例如,自2007年以来,联邦航空管理局本来已经发行了20多种短期基金债券,但是因为国会那边扯皮不清,结果最近的一期债券也于7月22日寿终正寝了。致使数千名工人被解雇,多个机场在建项目停工。由于共和党参议员阻挠任命,现在依然有多个监管职位空缺。而且与哥伦比亚、韩国、巴拿巴的自由贸易协定,之前已获得两党支持,却因为民主党想要把这个与一个工人培训项目挂钩而共和党坚决不干,造成这些协议现在仍然被搁置。

American politics has always been fractious; that is part of its strength. Checks and balances prevent abuse of power and compel compromise. But checks and balances combined with polarisation allow a small number of legislators to bring government to a halt. Businessmen always and everywhere complain about politicians, but what is happening now in America seriously bothers them. Daniel Kaufmann of the Brookings Institution, examining surveys by the World Economic Forum, notes that the confidence of American business executives in their legislature has fallen steadily since 2002, while that of their Canadian, British and German peers has not (see chart 1). America’s ranking in an annual World Bank survey of governance indicators has also fallen steadily since 2000. It then ranked 15th for “government effectiveness”. In 2009 it was 24th.

美国的政治体制一直以来都是摩擦不断,当然从某些方面来说,也是它的优势之所在。权力的制衡防止了权力的滥用,并且迫使政客们做出妥协。但也正是由于这种制衡和两党极度的分化导致了,即便一小撮立法者就能把政府搞成停摆。商人们无时不刻在向政客抱怨,但目前在美国政坛所发生的一切尤其让他们抓耳挠腮。布鲁金斯学会(很NB的一个美国智库)的丹尼尔•考夫曼根据世界经济论坛的研究报告,注意到了和加拿大、英国、德国不同(见图表1),美国公司高层对本国立法机构的信心,自2002年以来,一直就在往下降。还有,自2000年以来,美国在世界银行每年发布的政府管理指标报告中的排名也一直在跌。2000年时,政府效率这一项还排在第15,到了2009年,就掉到了第24位。

More than anything, businesses have hated the uncertainty of the weeks of posturing over the debt, which has caused many of them to put their plans on hold. Yet now that the stalemate is resolved and the deal signed, uncertainty is still rife—because the polarisation that made the stand-off possible is as sharp as ever.

商业比其他任何领域都厌恶这几周在债务问题上两党相互装逼所酿成的不确定性。正是这种不确定性,造成他们搁置了很多企划方案。另外,虽然僵局已被打破,协议也签了,但是这种不确定性依旧弥漫着——因为两党极端分化而导致的两党对峙比任何时候都显得尖锐。

It has been a long time forming. Most congressional seats are safely in the hands of one of the two parties, thanks to gerrymandering. The real election for many congressmen is the primary, when any representative who strays too far from the party line will face a challenge from an ideological purist. The Democratic landslide of 2008 and the Republican one of 2010 have also helped to weed out many centrists. The present House, according to Congressional Quarterly, a sister publication of The Economist, is the most starkly divided yet, with even the most liberal Republican now somewhere firmly to the right of the most conservative Democrat.

这种状况的形成历经了蛮长的一段时间。由于不公平的选区划分政策,国会中的多数议席始终牢牢掌握在两党之中一方的手中。对于很多众议员来说,真正的选举在于初选。初选时,任何一名代表,如果偏离本党路线太远,就会面临来自党内极端分子的挑战。民主党2008年压倒性的胜利和2010年共和党中期选举的胜利,都扫除了很多中间分子。按照《国会季刊》——本刊的姊妹刊物,的说法,目前国会正面临前所未有的分裂。即便是最为开明的共和党人,和最为保守的民主党当人相比,前者还是会显得更偏“右”。

Economic weakness reinforces this dogmatism. Democrats blame the crisis on deregulation and private greed, and find it especially heartless to cut social services when the ranks of poor and jobless are growing. Republicans blame the weak recovery on misguided Keynesian pump-priming and government overreach, and think higher taxes perverse when the economy is struggling. Many on both sides conclude that their different visions of society cannot be reconciled. Voters will have to choose between them: defenders of the rich in the Republican corner, reckless spendthrifts in the Democratic one.

经济的脆弱更是强化这种教条的观点(意指共和党人就必须保守,而民主党人就必须温和开明)。民主党人将金融危机归结为监管的失位和私人的贪婪,他们认为当贫困者和失业人数不断攀升时,对社会服务部分预算痛下杀手,尤其让人感觉残忍。而共和党人则指责说危机后缓慢的恢复速度正是政府被凯恩斯刺激型政策和“大政府”观点所误导的结果。他们还认为当经济还在挣扎着恢复时,提高税收是很荒谬的。两党中的很多人据此得出结论,双方不同的版本的社会构想是不可能达成和解的。选民们也只能在他们之间做出选择:是支持一个维护富人利益的共和党,还是选择一个只会大手大脚花钱的民主党。

Les grandes illusions 宏大的幻想

Pundits and political wise men have long dreamed of a “grand bargain”, which would arrest the growth of entitlement spending while raising tax revenue by closing loopholes. It is more or less the only formula that solves America’s budget woes while sharing political pain equally between the two parties. It is no coincidence that such a bargain lies at the heart of most recent bipartisan deficit-reduction schemes, including those put forward by the Senate’s “Gang of Six” and the president’s own fiscal commission. Both plans would have cut the deficit by roughly $4 trillion over the next decade, enough to put the debt on a downward path relative to GDP. Many hoped the debt-ceiling increase would be the vehicle to deliver it.

权威人士和明智的政客一直以来都梦想着能有一个“宏大的协议”,一方面可以控制福利开支的增长,另一方面通过堵住税收漏洞来增加收入。这起码还是目前唯一能够解决美国预算困境的方案,另外两党还能均摊政治苦果。所以说,这个协议能够成为最近两党减赤计划表,包括由参议院“六人小组”和总统自己的财政委员会提出的计划表,的核心议题,绝非巧合。这两个计划表方案都要求在未来十年削减大约4万亿的赤字,对比GDP的比例,已经足够使债务呈现一个下降趋势。很多人还希望债务上限的提升只是达成这一趋势的一个手段。

But Mr Obama, despite much talk about the need for long-term fiscal consolidation, has done little to advance it. He ignored his commission’s findings, and instead proposed a budget in February that left entitlements untouched. As for the Republicans, they have been as obdurate as Mr Obama was feckless. They walked out of negotiations no fewer than three times over the summer because the Democrats had the temerity to propose tax increases. Mr Obama and John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House, came close to striking a grand bargain a few weeks ago that would have reformed entitlements and tamed future deficits; but they fell out, both sides agree, on the subject of tax.

虽然奥巴马嘴上嚷嚷着要制定长期稳固的财政方案,但在行动上却丝毫未见其踪影。早些时候,他完全无视其委员会(即前面提到的总统专属财政委员会)给出的建议,转而于今年2月份提交了另一份财政方案,而这个方案中福利项目依旧完好无损。对于共和党来说,他们同样也倔得像奥巴马,指望他们是没戏了,这个夏天他们已经至少三次使谈判破裂,就因为民主党人一个劲地想提高税收。奥巴马和共和党国会议长约翰•博纳,数周前曾经一度接近达成这项“宏大的协议”,它涉及到了福利项目改革和限制未来财政赤字,但就是在这个税收问题上,双方谈崩了。

The result was a deal that neither side believes can fix the deficit. All $917 billion of the immediate spending cuts comes from discretionary outlays: items such as defence, law enforcement and research, which must be authorised each year by Congress. Spending on these was already heading downwards (see chart 2), and the deal accelerates the decline.

两党都不认为目前达成的这个协议能够解决赤字问题。事实上,9170亿美元的立减开支全都来自于可变动开销:比如国防、司法执行研究开支等这类条目,而且这些都还必须每年得到国会的批准授权。况且这些方面的支出,之前已经呈现下降趋势(见图表2),这项协议不过是加速了这个趋势而已。

The Democrats found the deal unbalanced because it contains no tax increases. But nor does it guarantee changes to entitlement programmes, which do not require annual authorisation and are the real source of long-term spending pressure. As a result, the deal’s $2.1 trillion-2.4 trillion in deficit savings will not only fail to halt the climb in the debt, but may not preserve America’s AAA credit rating either. Wall Street is jittery; though the stockmarket rallied when the deal was announced, by the end of August 2nd the S&P 500 had tumbled to a seven-month low.

民主党人发现这个协议并不平衡,原因在于它没将增税囊括在内。但是需要注意的是,协议同样也没保证说要对福利项目进行改革,而这些福利项目因为不需要年年的审核授权,恰恰是长期开支压力的真正来源。因此,2.1万亿至2.4万亿美元的减赤协议,并不能阻止不断攀升的债务,而且也不能保证美国顶级的3A主权信用评级。华尔街无疑是最紧张的,虽然当该协议宣布时,股市应声拉升,但到8月2日收盘时,标普500指数还是创下了7个月来的新低。

In theory, the joint congressional committee that must find the next tranche of cuts could embrace both entitlement reform and an increase in taxes. But Mr Boehner and Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader in the Senate, have made it clear that they do not want the committee to pursue tax increases. Since they will appoint the six Republican members, and since at least one Republican vote will be needed to put the committee’s recommendations to Congress as a whole, they can presumably get their way. Democrats, in turn, have made it clear that they will not allow cuts to entitlements unless the Republicans give ground on taxes.

理论上来说,联合国会委员会(即前面提到的那个12人组成的委员会)必须在下一轮削减计划中包括福利改革和增税内容。但博纳和共和党参议院少数派领导人米奇•麦克康奈尔就明确指出,他们并不希望该委员会寻求增税方案。考虑到这两位拥有指派六名委员会小组成员的权利,并且该委员会提交给国会的议案必须征得至少一名共和党人的支持,这哥俩的企图貌似可以达成。民主党人,作为回应,也明确甩出话来,除非共和党在税收上做出让步,否则休想动福利项目一根汗毛。

The debt deal’s triggers are meant to be fearsome enough to prevent that kind of deadlock. But for many Republicans, voting for a tax increase would be a bigger sin than allowing vicious cuts in the defence budget. Many Democrats, in turn, think they have been too quick to compromise in recent budget battles and are determined to call the Republicans’ bluff for once. Some—Mr Obama among them—welcome the idea of campaigning for next year’s elections with huge and doubtless unpopular budget cuts looming, while the rich are spared any rise in taxes.

债务协议引发的后果是相当可怕的,足以防止僵局的出现。但是对于共和党人来说,支持增税可比须削减国防预算带来的罪感严重得多。民主党人则认为自己在近期的的预算“战争”太早妥协了,又一次被共和党人的虚张声势给忽悠了。他们中的一些人,包括奥巴马,都认为明年选举时,可以推动一个庞大而又肯定不受欢迎的预算案来破除幻想,同时富人们也可免于增税。

Furthermore, there is always the chance that Congress, when faced with big cuts to cherished programmes, will simply reverse itself and disconnect the triggers. Past schemes designed to instil fiscal discipline have frequently come unstuck sooner or later. The triggers are meant to be pulled on December 23rd, but if no agreement has been reached, the cuts do not take effect for over a year after that, leaving Congress plenty of time to reconsider.

此外,当国会不愿割舍的项目面临大的削减时,它依然有机会改变方案本身,或者切断自己与协议后果的干系。此前就有多个计划力图灌输恪守财政律令的想法,奈何每次都屡屡被违反。协议所引发的后果将在12月23日正式见效,但是如果协议没有达成,削减方案将被搁置一年,这就会给国会留下大把的时间来重新考虑这个问题。

Small comforts 仅存的小安慰

Mr Obama did secure his priorities: the debt ceiling will not be an issue again until after the next election, and programmes for the poor were largely protected. He did not fully shield the recovery, though. Michael Feroli of JPMorgan Chase reckons the spending caps will subtract 0.3 percentage points from growth in 2012 (see chart 3). Fiscal policy was already on course to knock 1.4 points off growth, as last year’s payroll-tax cut and extension to unemployment benefits reach their expiry date. Administration officials hope to persuade Congress to keep both for one more year. But if they fail, then fiscal tightening poses a serious obstacle for an economy already growing at “stall speed”: that is, slowly enough to fall back into recession.

奥巴马妥妥地确保了他的优先权利:下界总统竞选期间,债务上限将不再成为一个绊脚石,而其面向穷人捞选票的福利项目也大多得到了保护。虽然,他也没有完全要回避恢复经济的问题。摩根大通的迈克尔•费罗利预计,因为开支上限,2012的GDP增长将受损0.3个百分点(见图表3)。由于去年的工资减税和增加失业救济金政策截止日期将至,财政政策对GDP增长的影响,此前预计已达1.4个百分点。政府官员希望能够劝服国会,再延迟这两项优惠政策一年。但是如果劝说无果,那么紧缩的财政政策将会给原本就陷入停滞的经济增长带来严重的阻碍。也就是说,足以让我们重新掉入衰退期。

The president counts as perhaps his biggest victory the reprieve from debt-ceiling blackmail for two more years. To be sure, the Republicans holding out against an increase assumed, probably correctly, that the Treasury would have found a way to pay interest on the debt. But it would have had to default on many other obligations. That the Republicans deployed such a threat so successfully will encourage both parties to try it again. Indeed, Mr McConnell proudly declared the strategy “a new template”. “In the future”, he added, “any president, this one or another one, when they request us to raise the debt ceiling, it will not be clean any more…we will go through the process again and see what we can continue to achieve.”

总统大人,可能将共和党在债务上限问题上的敲诈勒索延后两年,视为最大的胜利。另外可以肯定的是,共和党必然会反对财政部另辟蹊径来支付债务利息,(即使财政部这样做了)那就意味着它将不能履行其他义务。此次共和党人布设了一出如此成功的“挟债务以令国会”的好戏,肯定会刺激两党再做尝试。也正如所料,麦克康奈尔就不无自豪地宣称这个策略是一个“崭新的模板”。他还说:“以后如果有总统,不管是这个还是另外一个,当他们要求我们提高债务上限时,再明了不过了,我们可以通过这个过程,来看看我们能捞到什么。”

The two parties’ disagreements on economic policy are likely to surface time and again between now and the election. Besides the various votes on whatever the joint committee comes up with, a budget is due by October 1st; part of the petrol (gasoline) tax is up for renewal next month; unemployment benefits will become much less generous at the end of the year; and the tax cuts enacted under George Bush and extended last year will expire again at the end of 2012. Each of these events will provide an excuse to repeat all the partisan posturing of the past few months.

两党在经济政策上的争论,很可能再一次占据选举前的这一段时间。此外,除了联合委员会整出的各种投票,一项预算将于10月1日到期;下月部分汽油税又将面临续期;失业救济金年底也将变得越来越少;小布什在任时通过的减税方案(去年曾延长过一次)年底又将截止。毫无疑问,这些事情又将成为两党在未来数月上演各种闹剧的借口。

The outlook, then, is that America’s political dysfunction will only get worse, and with it the burden on economic growth. Some may think that too gloomy a view. The debt-ceiling farrago showed that old-fashioned bargaining could still work, and both Mr Obama and Mr Boehner showed themselves open to a grand bargain, if only for a time. A day after the debt deal, Senate leaders reached a sort of pact on moving the free-trade agreements forward.

展望未来,我们能看到的可能只是越来越“坡脚”的美国政治,而且这将成为经济增长的一个负担。有些人可能认为这种观点太悲观了。他们认为债务上限问题上各方的表现证明了老式的讨价还价还是能够奏效的。奥巴马和博纳也都显示了他们对一个大协议的开明态度,但愿不止一次。债务上限协议达成一天后,参议院领导人就达成了一系列协议,以推动自由贸易协定。

Round the country, too, there are gleams of useful reform. Both Florida and California are experimenting with less partisan forms of redistricting, which should lead to more competitive elections in which congressmen have to cater to the average voter rather than the extreme wings of their parties. If other states follow suit, it could slowly reverse the ideological duopoly that has taken over the House. Even without that, many tea-party Republicans, who won their seats in districts that were recently Democratic, have a high risk of being turfed out next year if they fail to learn the fine art of compromise.

放眼全国,我们还是能够看到不少有益的改革的曙光。佛罗里达和加州就在进行根据少数党派的形式来划分选区的试验,而这将使选举竞争更加激烈。众议员们不得不去迎合一般选民而不是他们党内的极端分子。如果其他州也能效法,这就会慢慢改变目前两党控制国会的双寡头制。即使不能改变这个现状,之前在民主党选区获得议席的保守共和党人,如果不能领悟妥协的艺术,那么很可能在明年选举中被踢出局。

But all that is 15 months in the future. And congressmen who have left Washington in a glow of relief and self-congratulation should have no illusions. The political dysfunctionality of America has been on display as never before, to the nation’s shame. And it can still do plenty of harm to a very sick economy.

但这一切都是未来15个月的事。那些离开华盛顿国会山并自感解脱和庆幸的众议员应当抛却任何幻想。目前美国政治的功能失调已经到了前所未有的地步,这对这个国家来说是种耻辱。而且这将给原本已经非常脆弱的经济带来诸多伤害。

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重点单词
  • vehiclen. 车辆,交通工具,手段,工具,传播媒介
  • preventv. 预防,防止
  • threateningadj. 威胁(性)的,凶兆的 动词threaten的现
  • domesticadj. 国内的,家庭的,驯养的 n. 家仆,佣人
  • gasolinen. 汽油
  • stalln. 货摊,摊位,厩,畜栏,(飞行器)失速 vt. 把
  • disconnectvt. 使分离 vi. 断开,拆开
  • recoveryn. 恢复,复原,痊愈
  • dogmatismn. 武断,教条主义,独断论
  • pursuev. 追捕,追求,继续从事