首页  | 张欣

Kicking the can down the road?

中国日报网 2014-07-22 10:42


Reader question:

Please explain “kicking the can down the road” in this passage (The Economist, July 19, 2014):

America’s House of Representatives passed a temporary patch to fund federal highway projects after months of delay had put hundreds of thousands of construction jobs at risk. But Barack Obama said that Congress was merely “kicking the can down the road”; he has proposed a $300 billion transportation programme to repair America’s crumbling infrastructure.

My comments:

By saying that Congress was merely “kicking the can down the road”, Barack Obama was criticizing America’s lawmakers for shirking their duties and obligation.

“Kicking the can down the road”, you see, means avoiding doing their job now and putting it off till later.

Obama has proposed a $300 billion transportation programme to repair America’s crumbling infrastructure, but the House of Representatives have not given its approval after months of delay. Perhaps many representatives don’t want that much money to be spent on roads, or perhaps some, especially Republican members of Congress, just don’t support any proposal raised by Obama, a Democrat.

Whatever the case, they’re been accused of playing a stalling game, in other words playing for time. They’re likened by Obama to kids kicking the can down the road.

What can? What road?

Any can, any road.

Fret not, for this is just another example of how simple and straightforward an American idiom can be.

The “can” refers to any one of many emptied cans (of beer, for example) littering the road. Children after school are walking home. One boy finds such a can in front of him. What does he do?

No, he doesn’t pick it up and put it in the garbage bin on the sidewalk – as an adult, mature politician may do. Instead, the boy kicks it rolling down the road. Then he takes a few steps, catches up and gives it another kick, sending it further down the road.

Other kids soon begin to do the same.

That’s the idea of kicking the can down the road.

Kids kick the can down the road strictly for kicks and nobody blames any of them for not carrying the can to the dust bin in a timely fashion.

It’s one of the advantages of being a child, clearly. Kids may kick the can down the road any time without remorse and reproach, but not for adults, who are suppose to do their duty and not even have any fun doing it. They’re supposed to pick all the cans up and head straight to the dust bin.

At any rate, Americans must have seen some parallels between kids kicking the can down the road and their politicians talking all the time without getting anything actually done because “kicking the can down the road” is most commonly used in political circles.

And quite frankly, I think most politicians anywhere mostly deserve the criticism. For one thing, they do seem to kick the can down the road all the time, don’t they?

Besides, even if they stop kicking the can and really start to get something done, they usually get it wrong.

In short, it’s great to be like children. But not for politicians – who will never get it.

All right, here are media examples:

1. The top Democrat in Congress called Wednesday for a quick solution to Washington’s “fiscal cliff” in an upcoming post-election session of Congress.

At the same time, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that asking wealthier people to pay higher taxes needs to be part of any solution to the government's budget woes.

The Nevada Democrat told reporters in Washington he’s “not for kicking the can down the road” and that any solution should include higher taxes on “the richest of the rich.”

The fiscal cliff is the one-two punch of expiring Bush-era tax cuts and across-the-board spending cuts to the Pentagon and domestic programs that could total $800 billion next year, based on Congressional Budget Office estimates.

It’s is the most immediate item confronting President Barack Obama and a divided Congress in a post-election lame duck session. Economists say it threatens to push the economy back into recession if Obama and Republicans can’t forge a deal to prevent it.

“The vast majority of the American people — rich, poor, everybody agrees — the richest of the rich have to help a little bit,” Reid said.

- Top Democrat wants wealthy people to pay higher taxes, AP, November 7, 2012.

2. Congress is deadlocked over what to do with student-loan interest rates, meaning rates on some subsidized student loans will double come July 1.

This is despite a flurry of proposals, including at least two on Thursday alone. Nevertheless, Congress is set to break for 10 days away from Washington without a fix, meaning students looking to finance their college education will be uneasily waiting for Congress to get its act together before the fall semester.

But so far, there’s little prospect of compromise even when lawmakers return after the Independence Day recess. Congressional Democrats, for example, are posturing that they won’t bend to a bipartisan proposal that would stabilize rates now but could lead to higher rates in the future.

“Students around this country would rather have no deal than a bad deal,” said Sen. Jack Reed (D) of Rhode Island, a sponsor of the main Democratic proposal to fix student-loan rates.

The clash on the Hill illuminates a deep policy divide between the two parties with heavy political overtones.

In May, House Republicans passed a measure that, like President Obama’s budget proposal, calls for a long-term student-loan fix that pegs interest rates to the cost that the federal government incurs to borrow money.

In general, House Republicans and a bipartisan Senate group want to solve the student-loan problem once and for all – and solve it now.

This bipartisan Senate group consists of three Republicans and two Democrats, and they offered a student-loan compromise on Thursday: It would affect all federal student loans, pegging subsidized and unsubsidized undergraduate student-loan rates to the 10-year treasury note, plus 1.85 percent, and adding 3.4 percent for graduate loans and 4.4 percent for additional “PLUS” loans.

Interest rates would, unlike the House proposal, stay fixed for the life of each loan and could be consolidated at 8.25 percent when a student leaves higher education.

The five senators backing this proposal are among the most exasperated with the Senate’s current state of deliberation – patching many programs year after year without solving problems. (The student-loan issue has been punted down the field each of the past two years.)

“We’re notorious for not fixing anything. We’re notorious for kicking the can down the road,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia on Thursday. “We’ve said, enough is enough.”

Such a fix would be “the only thing that’s certain up here,” said Sen. Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma, “other than chaos.”

- Student loans: Despite new proposals in Congress, no fix as deadline looms, RocketNew.com, June 27, 2013.

3. The House passed a critical funding bill Tuesday to maintain transportation funding through the rest of the fiscal year by a comfortable 367-55 vote margin.

The stop-gap measure, which would add $11 billion to the Highway Trust Fund, will keep the program from running out of money in August and support more than 100,000 transportation projects around the country.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., sponsored the bill, which pays for the funds by using a trick called pension smoothing, which lets companies postpone contributions to employees' pension funds in exchange for paying more interest later.

Ten Democrats opposed the bill, saying instead the House should opt for a longer-term solution, while 45 Republicans voted against it as a bailout.

At an event at the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center in Virginia Tuesday, President Obama urged action from Congress on not only a stop-gap measure for the rest of the year, but a new funding bill that would continue to pay for ongoing projects.

“If Congress fails to fund it, it runs out of money. That could put nearly 700,000 jobs at risk, including more than 17,000 right here in Virginia,” Obama said. “At the very least, Congress should be keeping people on the job who are already there right now. But all this does is set us up for the same crisis a few months from now.”

“So Congress shouldn’t pat itself on the back for averting disaster for a few months, kicking the can down the road for a few months, careening from crisis to crisis when it comes to something as basic as our infrastructure,” he said. “Instead of barely paying our bills in the present, we should be investing in the future.”

- House passes $11b fix for Highway Trust Fund, UPI.com, July 25, 2014.




About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.



Food chain?

Follow the money?

Behind the eight ball again?

Reading the riot act?

Keep his power dry?


(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)



Raw end of the deal?


Keep his power dry?


Reading the riot act?


Behind the eight ball again?


Follow the money?


Food chain?

中国日报网 英语点津微信
中国日报网 双语小程序