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Beijing (AFP) – A senior Chinese official voiced concern over a looming deadline for raising the U.S. debt ceiling Monday, saying the “clock is ticking” to avoid a default that could seriously harm China’s economic interests.

“As the world’s largest economy and the issuer of the major reserve currency in the world, it is important for the U.S. to maintain the creditworthiness of its Treasury bonds,” vice finance minister Zhu Guangyao told reporters. “It is important for the U.S. economy as well as the global economy.”

Zhu spoke with the United States government in a partial shutdown since the beginning of this month, due to a dispute between Republicans and Democrats over funding President Barack Obama’s signature health care programme that has prevented the passage of key spending legislation.

An even more serious problem is the prospect that the U.S. government will not have enough cash to pay its bills if an agreement to raise its debt ceiling is not reached by October 17.

Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said Sunday the U.S. will have reached the maximum it is allowed to borrow on that date, and with only $30 billion cash in hand to meet obligations that can run to $60 billion a day, it will quickly face default.

Zhu, one of three Chinese officials briefing reporters ahead of Premier Li Keqiang’s departure for a regional summit this week in Brunei — which Obama plans to miss due to the standoff in Washington — called on the U.S. to take quick and decisive action.

“We hope that before October 17, the U.S. will take credible steps to address its disputes over the debt ceiling in a timely fashion, avoid a default and ensure the safety of Chinese investments in the US and ensure the process of global economic recovery will not be seriously affected by this,” he said.

Zhu added that as the world’s two largest economies, the U.S. and China are “inseparable”, stressing their annual bilateral trade of $500 billion, US direct investments in China and China’s possession of a “vast number of U.S. Treasury bonds”, without giving a total.

Over the years, China has recycled some of its trillions of dollars in foreign exchange reserves, the result of huge trade surpluses, by investing in U.S. Treasury. As such it has become a significant creditor of the U.S., which runs chronic deficits.

Zhu said that the two sides have been in close contact on the issue and the U.S. was clearly aware of China’s concerns about the gridlock.

He also acknowledged that Obama and Lew were working to avoid a possible default.

“But we have to see that the clock is ticking,” Zhu said. “It is only one week away before the deadline on the 17th.

“The executive branch of the U.S. government has to take decisive and credible steps to avoid a default on its Treasury bonds,” he said.

Only the U.S. can work out what is a domestic issue, he said, “but it also has global implications so that’s why we say that the government and the Congress have to speed up their negotiations”.

Regarding Lew’s potential challenge of having to decide which bills to pay with limited funds, Zhu said that the “key issue” for the U.S. must be to make interest payments on its debt.

“This is something that the U.S. government has to give consideration on the priority basis,” he said. “It has to realize the major significance of this issue.”

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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

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Politico Magazine published an article Thursday that perfectly embodies the failures of tabloid-style political journalism to address the fundamental dangers facing the country: “145 Things Donald Trump Did in His First Year as the Most Consequential Former President Ever.”

“In ways both absurd and serious, the 45th president refused to let go of the spotlight or his party and redefined what it means to be a former leader of the free world,” the article sub-headline states, sitting above a colorful image containing a photo of a smiling Trump and images that have defined his post-presidency, including his second impeachment, golf clubs, and a vaccination needle.

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