Belfast Telegraph

US government needs a hero as time ticks away

I was a late developer when it came to US drama 24. I didn't have satellite television and was left to borrow DVD boxsets of the early series from friends to catch up on the show everyone was talking about at the time.

If I'm honest, I'm not a big fan of the later series but in the early days it was, and still is one of the more enthralling shows around and, many times, more than one episode was viewed per sitting.

Watching the events of the last few days unfold between the Democrats and the Republicans in the US has been much like one of those sessions, but this time, it's personal.

What, you may ask, does a spat between a couple of party leaders - okay one of them happens to be the President - have to do with us here in Northern Ireland?

Well, put it this way, if Barack Obama and the Republican Congress speaker John Boehner don't bury their differences and come to some sort of compromise soon, the ramifications will be felt far beyond the shores of Texas and South Carolina.

If evidence were needed, take a look at the skyline of Belfast and you'll see plenty of buildings housing US companies which have invested heavily here.

Zero hour, as far as the ticking clock is concerned, is August 2 when the US government is expected to have run out of money.

The target for this particular Jack Bauer is the country's debt ceiling which threatens to drown our hero unless he manages to raise it by a complex series of pulleys and wires (it's actually a series of tax cuts and austerity measures, but you get the picture).

Imagine if you can see that quartered screen with Barack Obama in one corner, John Boehner in the other, the rest of the world in another and Jack Bauer in the final one, nervously staring at his watch.

Overly dramatic? The markets don't think so.

Yesterday, most of the world's stock markets had been in positive territory up until about 2.30 in the afternoon.

Then the US markets opened and the bloodbath began.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 119 points at the time of writing and took every other market with it into negative territory.

Meanwhile, John Boehner's embarrassing fat finger mistake - as the market traders call it - didn't help instil confidence in the men and women running the biggest economy in the world.

His Republican party made an accounting error which over-calculated how much its proposals to lift the debt ceiling would save.

In essence, the argument comes down to Republicans wanting to implement spending cuts and Democrats wanting to increase taxes.

Two idealistic parties with differing views trying to sort out its $14.3tn debt.

Maybe it's even too much for Jack Bauer.