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Politics

Opinion: Time for the US to set its priorities

US Congress has reached an agreement over the fiscal cliff, but a sustainable budgetary concept is still lacking, says DW's Washington correspondent Miodrag Soric.

Miodrag Soric

Miodrag Soric runs DW's Washington bureau

President Barack Obama got his way: Wealthier Americans will pay higher taxes. That means the president has fulfilled a campaign promise, while Republicans - who swore before the elections to never vote for a tax increase - are divided. Many voted with the Democrats. Obama succeeded in thwarting the conservative Tea Party movement.

So, is it now back to the daily grind? Hardly - the next fight is already brewing on the horizon. In the coming weeks, the US has to increase its debt limit, as Washington needs new credit lines to pay its bills. Republicans have already announced that they will only vote in favor of new liabilities if Obama finally begins to balance the national budget.

In short, no rest for America.

More exports, less war

For the moment, nothing will change, as an ailing budget can't be fixed overnight. Every year, the US spends a trillion dollars more than it earns. That has been the case for years. The US economy doesn't produce enough products for export, while the ultimately meaningless conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have devoured trillions more. Worldwide, the US runs more than 1,000 small and large military bases.

All of this won't be financially viable in the long-term.

Among the American population at least, there is a growing view that the US should be less active on the international stage. Sooner or later, the political elite will have to take note of these concerns. The US as the world's policeman - that will soon be a thing of the past.

Better infrastructure and more education

On the home front, there's plenty for the US government to do. The healthcare system - in comparison with say the German system - is far too expensive. America's infrastructure is, in many places, decrepit. Even in Washington, electricity blackouts occur regularly. Across the country, hundreds of bridges are in danger of collapsing, because the money for maintenance is simply lacking. Meanwhile, the education system needs investment, and immigration laws need fundamental reforms.

In order to achieve all of this, the government needs money - money that it doesn't have. That is why it has to set priorities - the first being a reasonably balanced budget. Democrats and Republicans will have to work together to ensure this.

But at this point, there's simply no political will to achieve this.

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