Singapore leader grades US: 'clearly room to improve'

Singapore's deputy prime minister took a grade-school teacher's approach Saturday to assess the political paralysis in Washington over the US budget and debt ceiling.

Tharman Shanmugaratnam, chairman of the International Monetary Fund's steering committee, was asked at an IMF press conference how he saw the US behavior shaking global markets.

"It's a sort of question that requires grading from an elementary school teacher rather than a graduate school professor," Tharman said.

"I think there's clearly room for improvement."

Tharman, also Singapore's finance minister, stressed that in conversations with US government officials, it was clear "they understand the issues fully" surrounding the looming deadline to raise the country's debt ceiling to avoid a potentially catastrophic default.

"We know what the problems of the US are. There is not a lack of understanding."

The influential steering panel, the International Monetary and Financial Committee, singled out the US policy problems in a statement for the annual IMF-World Bank meetings underway in Washington.

"The United States needs to take urgent action to address short-term fiscal uncertainties," it said, reiterating a similar call by the Group of 20 finance chiefs on Friday.

Central bankers and finance ministers from around the world voiced concern in Washington about the need for the White House and Congress to agree a deal that would fund the government, now partially shut down for 12 days, and increase the debt ceiling.

If the $16.7 trillion ceiling is not increased by October 17, the Treasury says, it will find itself short of cash and possibly forced to default on payments.