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Business: Delving deep into how the US avoided default

Almost every bookshelf in the US capital holds a thin volume called '13 Days', Robert F Kennedy's account of the Cuban missile crisis.

Memo to Washington: Make room on those shelves for Bob Woodward's latest behind-the-scenes book, 'The Price of Politics', which might as well have been called '44 Days'.

The centrepiece is a riveting account of the tedious negotiations to reach a "grand bargain" on the federal budget as the US faced default last summer. Woodward's implicit theme is that the price was too high -- for the economy, the political system and the country.

The entire trajectory of the administration -- frustrated hope, unrealised change -- was foreshadowed in its first week: the president called a budget meeting. Representative Eric Cantor, then the minority whip, expressed scepticism about the president's stimulus plan.

Obama lectured the young Republican: "Elections have consequences. And Eric, I won." Three days later the president introduced an $800m stimulus bill.

"We have the votes," White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said, adding a trademark expletive.

And away they went. The administration pressed ahead. Cantor insisted Obama's plan wouldn't get a single Republican vote. It didn't.

"Obama had demonstrated that he believed he didn't need any other input," Woodward writes.

But Woodward's story is not merely the tale of Republicans versus Democrats.

Infighting

It is the story of infighting between Democrats and distrust among Republicans.

It pits Obama against, variously, business leaders, both chairmen of the Simpson-Bowles debt-reduction commission, House Democrats, the pharmaceutical lobby that sided with him on Obamacare and, fatefully, the House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, now the Republican vice-presidential nominee.

The president's attack on the Ryan plan with the congressman sitting only 25 feet away in a George Washington University auditorium became a defining DC moment, widening the partisan divide.

Woodward might find himself attacked for rooting for compromise in an era that dishonours compromise. He certainly won't be accused of skimping on details in an age that rewards skimming along the surface, particularly in political reportage.

Some might find all the detail tough going, but if you're the kind of person who's desperate to know the vote in a Ways and Means subcommittee hearing, you'll find the book fascinating.

Available with free P&P from www.kennys.ie or by calling 01 709350

Indo Business