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By Ray Fleming

AT the beginning of this week the New York Times ran a leading article about the debt-ceiling crisis facing the United States which began: “The White House's proposals are bad. The Republicans' are appalling.” A curse on both your houses! Three days later the situation seems no better. President Obama is refusing to make the kind of cuts in public expenditure demanded by the Republicans and insists that some taxes must rise; John Boehner, the leader of the majority Republicans in Congress, wants savage budget cuts and hands off taxes. There is also the issue of timing. Obama has a long-term objective while some Republicans see advantage in a short-term deal that would make it necessary for the battle to be re-fought before next year's election.

The polls indicate a narrow margin of public opinion supporting the President and this sentiment is likely to increase as next Tuesday's deadline for decision draws closer. President Obama also has the advantage that by-and-large his party supports him. By contrast, John Boehner has a party-within-a-party -- the Tea Party -- to deal with; its members are far to the right of traditional Republicanism and, as newcomers to Congressional procedures, have only contempt for compromise. The rest of the world can only stand outside and look in at the risks that are being taken with the world economy.