01/04/2012 10:32 am ET Updated Mar 05, 2012

2011: The Year of Buck-Passing

Looking back, 2011 may be remembered as the year that world leaders passed the buck. And much to the chagrin of people with savings accounts and other interest-bearing deposits, this flurry of buck-passing may have doomed them to another year of low interest rates.

Here are 2011's most prominent buck-passers:

1. Congress
As part of an agreement to raise the debt ceiling last summer, Congress demanded a meaningful plan for deficit reduction -- as long as somebody else came up with that plan. To pass the buck on formulating a proposal, Congress created a so-called Super Committee to come up with deficit reduction recommendations. To show they were putting some teeth into this effort, Congress also mandated a series of automatic budget cuts that would go into effect if the Super Committee didn't produce a plan Congress could pass -- but Congress then passed the buck by making sure those cuts would not go into effect until the next Congress (and possibly the next President) was in place in 2013.

2. The Super Committee
Having been handed the ball by the rest of Congress, the Super Committee fumbled around with it shortly and ultimately dropped it. Just before Thanksgiving, the Super Committee announced that it had failed to agree on a proposal, leaving the problem of deficit reduction to somebody else again.

3. President Obama

While the deficit reduction mess made Congress look pretty bad, Obama has hardly emerged as a strong leader in all of this. As he did with health care, Obama has stood back and left the details to Congress. He has failed to provide a clear proposal for people to rally around, and when it was clear that the Super Committee was faltering, he did nothing to step in and bring the two sides together.

4. Former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou
America may be the home of the U.S. dollar, but apparently buck-passing exists in a variety of different currencies and languages. Take Papandreou, who emerged from intense negotiations with European Union leaders with a highly-sensitive and complex bailout plan for Greek debt. Papandreou then abdicated responsibility by announcing he would put the proposal to a referendum of the Greek people, creating new rounds of uncertainty and delay in a situation that could afford neither. Papandreou ultimately backed away from the proposal, shortly before resigning.

Impact on savings accounts
By failing to provide leadership at critical times, all of these leaders contributed to the economic weakness that has prompted the low interest rate policy of the Federal Reserve. In addition, the uncertainty that arises in a leadership vacuum causes investors to run to the security of U.S. Treasury bonds, driving down market interest rates even further.

Because of this, savings, money market and CD rates have defied the odds by continuing to slide despite already being near zero. For them to reverse course to any meaningful degree, 2012 will have to be a year of stronger leadership.

The question is: How likely is that in an election year?
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