Power vacuum sends US close to fiscal precipice

Power vacuum sends US close to fiscal precipice
Speaker of the House John Boehner (L) and US President Barack Obama (R).

WASHINGTON - America's political system was designed precisely to prevent one leader or faction from piling up too much power.

But as Washington hurtles towards a debt default and government shutdown, the problem is not the tyranny of the majority, but that no one may have the power to avert disaster.

A weakened President Barack Obama and congressional leaders from both parties, locked in an endless clinch of partisan bitterness, have failed to impose themselves on Washington's political jungle.

Obama, seeing an ambitious second term agenda expire on Capitol Hill, was bucked by Congress over bombing Syria and saw his fellow Democratic senators snub a favoured choice to head the Federal Reserve.

His rival big gun, Republican House Speaker John Boehner is hostage to the conservative Tea Party faction of his own caucus, and may have to choose between his job and tipping the US economy over a cliff.

Senate Democratic leaders lack the power to enforce their will. Republicans however have just enough of the stuff to grind the chamber to a halt, using stifling filibuster rules.

The brouhaha has emboldened minority factions and charismatic up and comers like Republican senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, who lack power to change things alone, but can break a lot of crockery.

Forged in the memory of colonial tyranny, the US political system splits power between the president, lawmakers and the Supreme Court.

When voters split authority - there has been a Republican House and Democratic White House and Senate since 2011, - political rivals can cancel each other out.

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