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Australian deputy PM: 'Cranks and crazies' in GOP threaten US economy

Wayne Swan, who also serves as treasurer and is his center-left Labor Party government's ranking finance minister, says the "cranks and crazies that have taken over the Republican Party" are the greatest threat to the U.S. economy. Watch an excerpt of his speech.

CANBERRA, Australia -- Australia's deputy prime minister said Friday that the greatest threat to the U.S. economy are "cranks and crazies" in the Republican Party.

Wayne Swan, who also serves as treasurer and is his center-left Labor Party government's ranking finance minister, took aim at the Tea Party during a speech to a business forum on Friday, breaking a convention among Australia's major parties to steer clear of U.S. domestic political debates.

Swan, one of few world leaders able to boast his country had avoided recession during the global financial crisis, also labelled the Tea Party wing of the Republicans as "extreme."

"Let's be blunt and acknowledge the biggest threat to the world's biggest economy are the cranks and crazies that have taken over the Republican Party," Swan said in a speech in Sydney.

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The Republican Party's position on the U.S. budget had led a year ago to the deadlock in negotiations, Swan said, to prevent the looming "fiscal cliff" -- nearly $600 billion in planned spending cuts and tax hikes that will bite early next year.

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The U.S. Congress had been debating whether to increase the U.S. borrowing ceiling but the Republicans would not budge.

"Despite President Obama's goodwill and strong efforts, the national interest was held hostage by the rise of the extreme Tea Party wing of the Republican Party," he said. 

Australian politicians rarely launch such blunt criticism of their counterparts in the United States, Australia's most important strategic ally.

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Swan, named by banking magazine Euromoney as its finance minister of the year in 2011, also called on the U.S. Congress to resolve an agreement on the budget to support growth in the short term.

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With the U.S. presidential campaign entering its final weeks, the spending cuts and tax hikes will kick in unless Obama and Congress reach a deficit-reduction deal.

'Peddling hatred'
Democrats want to make up the shortfall by increasing taxes on wealthy Americans, while Republicans favor spending cuts.

The conservative opposition said Swan's speech betrayed his "hatred" of Republicans.

"The Labor Party is peddling hatred and [they've] got to stop," opposition treasury spokesman Joe Hockey told reporters. "They hate the Republican Party. I'd like Wayne Swan to say something positive about someone somewhere."

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Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who is due to travel to New York next week to address the United Nations General Assembly, defended her deputy's comments as "appropriate."

"What happens in the U.S. economy matters to the world economy and it matters to us," she told reporters. "Wayne Swan was making that very common sense point today."

Adam Lockyer, a lecturer at Sydney University's U.S. Studies Center, described Swan's speech as "a clumsy political move" that left him open to attack from his political enemies.

Lockyer said Swan might have been attempting to link the Tea Party to the obstructionism of the Australian opposition, which has thwarted Labor's legislative agenda in a finely-balanced Parliament.

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Australia has long maintained that its close relationship with Washington, and its 61-year-old defense alliance, remains strong regardless of who is in the White House.

Former conservative Prime Minister John Howard was widely criticized in 2007 when he claimed Obama, then a Democratic presidential nominee, represented al-Qaida's interests.

Howard, a staunch U.S. ally in the Iraq war who lost elections later that year after 11 years in power, created one of the first controversies of Obama's presidential campaign by attacking his plan to withdraw troops.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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