The nation breathed a huge sigh of relief last week when Senate Republicans agreed not to filibuster a Democratic proposal to raise the federal debt ceiling.
However, the action only lasts until December, when the whole drama will be played out again.
The government has hit the debt ceiling, requiring Congress to raise it, 14 times since 2001. Especially in recent years, the vote on the debt ceiling has become politicized, creating a danger that Congress would not act before the nation defaulted on some of its obligations.
I don’t know about you, Steve, but comprehending the scope of the national debt and deficit is not my area of expertise. I do know from my own that when you’re paying interest on debt, your paycheck doesn’t go very far.
Can we concede that the same principle applies to our national debt? Let’s admit that when it goes up by trillions (a trillion is a thousand billion, right, and a billion is a thousand million) the economy must be robust to pay the interest on that debt.
We need to be careful about adding to that already huge debt, and we need to be realistic about paying it down—and that’s going to take some tax dollars.
Currently, refusing to raise the debt ceiling is the Republicans’ best leverage to get the Democrats to pare down Biden’s big infrastructure bill, which includes help with things like day care, elder care, medical coverage, and low-income housing. These measures would help lots of struggling families and would be popular. Republicans fear the 2022 elections would go to more Democrats if this succeeded, so they’re holding the debt ceiling hostage.
Should the debt ceiling be eliminated? Honestly, I don’t think so. I think Democrats and Republicans need to sit down together and admit that wealthy corporations and individuals have got to pay more taxes. If they did so, paying for a safety net similar to other wealthy countries would be doable—yet our national debt could still decrease.
Pardon me while I try to contain my disgust at both parties; First at the Democrats for their wildly profligate and dangerous spending habits, aided and abetted by too many Republicans over the years, not the least of which was Donald Trump. And second, at Mitch McConnell for his ignominious capitulation on forcing Democrats to navigate the debt ceiling mess on their own. A pox, I say. A pox on both their houses.
Ronald Reagan said that comparing Congress’s spending habits to those of a drunken sailor was an insult to the sailor, and it’s true.
There are few things that are designed to slow down the country’s seemingly insane plunge into financial ruin, but one of them, in theory, is the need for congress to approve how much the country is allowed to spend when paying the debts. The problem is that Congress, especially Democrats, no longer see this process as a restraint. In fact, Democrats are now calling for the elimination of debt ceiling renewals altogether.
The blessing, or curse, depending on how you see it, is that the debt ceiling has nothing to do with how much money Congress chooses to spend. Its only purpose is to authorize the amount of money the country can spend to pay the bills that Congress has racked up in the past.
Prior to 1917, Congress had to authorize every individual debt payment, much as city councils do today. That used to give each member pause to consider the actual dollars he or she was spending.
Today, there is no such restraint. Congress can engage in wild spending sprees without regard for financial responsibility. It’s a far cry from the way we each have to manage our own family finances. But more about that in a moment. What say you, Alison?
Since you asked, Steve, I say that it’s hypocritical to blame the Democrats for profligate spending. Here are the percentages and dollar increases that the presidents in our voting lifetime have raised the national debt:
Reagan: 186%, or 1.85 trillion. This is what happens when you believe in the “trickle-down theory,” which does not work. Reagan cut taxes on the rich and spent big on defense.
Bush 1: 54%, or 1.55 trillion
Clinton: 31.6%, or $1.4 trillion
Bush 2: 101%, or $5.85 trillion (post 9/11 War on Terror)
Obama: 73.6 %, or $8.59 trillion (2008 recession)
Trump: $33.1 %, or $6.7 trillion (Huge tax cut, Covid pandemic)
Yes, Democrats care about social programs. They can see that all of Europe, Latin America, Australia, Russia, much of Asia and even many African countries have universal health care, and we should too.
We should offer some help for young families and young people with modest incomes to get the education they’ll need to provide for themselves. Elder care should not be so expensive that it quickly consume people’s lifetime savings. These are benefits that many governments provide, and if the very rich were taxed fairly, ours could easily afford to do so.
Instead, administrative assistants pay more taxes than CEOs, and the top 1% of Americans own more wealth than the bottom 90% combined. We carry a ridiculous amount of national debt, which will burden our children and grandchildren.
Congress does need to be held accountable when the debt ceiling is raised, and they do need to attack the national debt. They should spend less, spend wisely, and look toward a more equitable distribution of wealth.
Like I said, Alison, a pox on both their houses. Today the national debt clock stands at $228,999 per taxpayer. That’s $457,998 for your household and mine.
No matter how complicated Congress tries to make it, to me, economics are simple. If you’re broke, you must reduce spending or increase income.
Congress has already spent 148% more than every man, woman and child earns, so increasing income is not a viable option no matter how much more “stuff” we may want.
Forget the top 1%, if the government confiscated every dollar all of us earn and applied it to the debt, we’d still fall 48% short of paying it off. That smells an awful lot like bankruptcy to me.
We’ve all heard of people who’ve used one credit card to pay off the other until the debt snowball and became so big it overwhelmed their ability to pay. The national debt limit is kind of like that. Democrats want us to get a bigger credit card so they can have what they want instead of acknowledging what the country can afford.
The Republicans are finally shouting, “Stop! We just gave you $1.5 trillion to rebuild our infrastructure. We can’t afford more.” I compare it to that “aw ha” moment when a husband or wife realizes that they have reached the limits of what they can afford, but their partner wants to ignore reality and just keep on spending
Should we get rid of the debt ceiling? Not on your life. Credit cards have debt limits for a reason. Continuing to spend when there’s nothing left in the wallet is not only irresponsible and dangerous, it’s incredibly stupid.