Speaking at a New York conference early Thursday morning, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti strayed from discussing the financial and debt crisis currently affecting his country to refer to U.S. budget issues, suggesting Washington could learn quite a bit from Rome in terms of how to force consensus in a crisis.
Monti, who was appointed as an unelected technocratic chief executive with the backing of Italy's three major parties in 2011, suggested U.S. politicians might find it useful to hand off budgetary issues to a "nonpartisan" agent endowed with extraordinary powers as a way to break the logjam on Capitol Hill. Such a dynamic would mirror his own example: Since being appointed, Monti has implemented painful and highly unpopular budget-slimming austerity measures that, by his own admission, have made the recession in his country more painful.
"Why should it be impossible in a country that’s as mature as the U.S. to explore not-so-conflictual bipartisan modalities or whatever," Monti told an audience at a speech hosted by the private Council on Foreign Relations Thursday. "In each political system there should be the ability to isolate issues that affect a future generation and treat them in a nonpartisan manner. This is what we tried to do in Italy."
Monti warned the current market view, where "U.S. fiscal imbalances are seen as marginal decoration of a complex European-dominated" crisis was not realistic, and suggested it would likely be done away with if U.S. budget issues get worse.
The Italian prime minister noted the obvious differences between the situation in his country and that in the U.S., where debt load and economic growth projections are not at a point to threaten sovereign borrowing costs, explaining that Italy only turned to him when it had no other choice.
“If a country where there is no lack of politicians arrives at the point where even the politicians decide it is better to hand off power to someone not one of them,” that is a sign of deep crisis, Monti said, succinctly summarizing the situation that brought him to power.
Still, the U.S. might not be that far off from that dynamic, Monti hinted.
"I was fascinated by the attempt that was made by the U.S. supercommittee to deal with the fiscal issues," Monti said. “You can look at my strange government as somewhat of the same effort to reach a bipartisan solution to put public finances under control.”