The Phony Debt Ceiling Debate

Submitted by Mike Appleton, Guest Blogger

Humorist Tom Bodett observed on NPR’s “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me” this weekend that if we raise the debt ceiling any higher, we won’t be able to paint it.  In addition to being funny, his comment was more intelligent than most of what passes for debate on the issue.

Raising the debt ceiling is hardly a difficult decision to make, requiring that Congress answer only the following questions:

1. Are we unable with existing revenues to pay our debts as they become due?

2. Do we have the ability to borrow the funds necessary to cover the shortfall?

3. Will the additional borrowing push us over the existing debt ceiling?

If the answer to these questions is “yes,” the debt ceiling needs to be raised. Congress has always managed to get through the process rather easily, voting to increase the debt ceiling 74 times since 1962.  So why the current impasse on a routine matter?

The answer, of course, is that the debate is about something other than the national debt. That something is the trilogy of programs known as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Republican efforts in the past to privatize Social Security disappeared in the Washington fog. The Ryan budget, which includes the elimination of Medicare, has as much chance of passage as I do of appointment to the Supreme Court. (Medicare is already getting hammered throughout the country, even as severe unemployment has increased the number of eligible recipients.)

But Republicans view the debt ceiling debate as an opportunity to move forward with their plans for the Great Dismantling, strongly encouraged by two factors. The first is the large number of freshmen Tea Party representatives who share with the average college radical the notion that compromise bespeaks a lack of moral integrity. The second is the President’s propensity to compromise first and ask for something in return later. The strategy has already borne fruit; the Obama administration has offered cuts in Social Security and Medicare without extracting a single binding promise on revenue increases. Fully expecting a complete collapse of Democratic nerve, Republicans are now treating the public to something resembling the drag racing scene in “Rebel Without A Cause.”

So is it nevertheless an honest debate?  Not by a long shot.  For one thing, everyone knows the debt ceiling must be increased regardless of any other considerations.  Congressional hypocrisy is thicker than Louisiana sorghum on this point.  The phrase “debt ceiling,” after all, is a misnomer.  The limits imposed by the statute apply to borrowing authority.  The actual debt ceiling is whatever Congress decides it will be through its enactment of spending bills. When Republicans exacted continuation of the Bush tax cuts last fall, they certainly understood that the additional debt burden would require increasing the debt ceiling.  Therefore, opposing an increase in the statutory debt ceiling is equivalent to refusing to pay debts one has already incurred.

Moreover, there is nothing honest about hiding one’s real agenda.  Insisting on spending cuts which one knows cannot be accomplished without seriously damaging so-called entitlement programs is stealth politics posing as principled resolve.  The budget cut debate can take place at another time, and the Republican leadership knows it.

The mature solution is to terminate the present negotiations, adopt a reasonable debt ceiling increase as a stand-alone bill and take up spending and taxing measures separately.  Bookies aren’t taking bets on political maturity in the present Congress.

Sources: CNN Money; Austin, D. Andrew and Levit, Mindy R., “The Debt Limit: History and Recent Increases,” Congressional Research Service (Jan. 28, 2010).

57 thoughts on “The Phony Debt Ceiling Debate

  1. But according to Sheila Jackson when the repubs do it it’s because they are all racist.

    In her own words

    Only this president…only this one…only this one…read between the lines…what is different about this one that should put him in a position that he should not receive the same kind of respectful treatment…yada…yada…when it is necessary to pay our bills…I do not understand what I think is the maligning and maliciousness of this president. Why is he different, and in my community that is the question that we raise…in the minority community that is the question being raised…why has the debt limit been raised 60 times…

  2. Mahtso,

    I guess that would depend on what the intent behind raising the debt ceiling for each of those times was. Now if the intent was to say make the sky green, then yes it’d be insane, but if the intent was to say allow the U.S. to borrow more money to be able to pay the bills that had just come due, then no it isn’t.

  3. “Basically, Obama is having to pay for Bush’s unpaid for dinners”(culheath)

    Republicans are experts at “dine and dash” … it’s one of the few things they do really well.

  4. I almost get the impression that the republicans and the White House are trying to “Chapter 11” the United States debt.

    Sorta like the way George Bush dealt with terrorism… “You are with us or you are against us.”

    In that Chapter 11 process, it almost would appear that any/all social programs would be discontinued; for the good of the country of course…

    That would also ensure that Obama would serve just one term.

    Look at how successful Chapter 11 proceedings have been for the airline industry… I’m only aware of three (major) carriers that haven’t used Chapter 11 (American, Southwest and Jetblue). Every other airline has used it at least once and each time it’s (citizens) employees have taken a very hard hit. Each time the unsecured creditors have taken a hit as well.

    Maybe Obama might just want to waterboard Donald Rumsfeld and find out where he disposed of that 2.3 trillion dollars on Sept 10th 2001.

    Would come in handy now…

  5. @Mike Appleton, Is that your only response to mahstso and Baadman pointing out to you how Obama and the Dems played the exact same kind of political shenanigans just five short years ago, that you just tried to call the Repubs on? Kinds makes your entire post an embarrassing farce, now doesn’t it?

  6. One of the virtues of Obama’s having agreed to the Republican demands early on in this debate and upping the ante with a greater debt reduction number is that he can now truthfully ask ‘can’t they take yes for an answer?’. That he insists on no short term raise of the debt ceiling should also play well with voters because who wants to have to deal with this circus every six months? People are sick of hearing about it and business, small business anyway, should not want this kind of insecurity (which could translate into higher interest rates for them if there is a lowering of the credit rating) as an ongoing concern.

    This kind of fight should actually work FOR the Democratic party in 2012 among the ‘undecided’ voters. The clear pattern of obstructionism among the Republicans is so obviously harming the country that it should be apparent to anyone that a large majority for Democrats in both the House and Senate is the only thing that will break the political log-jam. In another year and a half the voters should be about ready to do just that. I think the President and Democratic party is counting on the Republicans to deliver the independent voters to the Democrats and Bohener is so poor of a leader that they (the Republicans) will do just that.

    It would be a good thing if the Justice Department (spits) would work on challenging the laws being put in place to suppress votes since those laws affect primarily Democratic voters. Here in MO. a voter ID law is now going to be put on the ballot after the MO. Supreme court struck down a previous law mandating photo ID. This ballot initiative, which will give the legislature the ability to do what it did previously, is being challenged in court. The new initiative has some provisions to limit disenfranchisement so it might pass the court test. We are though distinguished as being the first in the nation to challenge such a law. Good for us!

    http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/article_d7cbfcac-3902-5e8f-87a9-8e4900bb651e.html

    “Lawmakers put photo ID amendment on Mo. ballot

    JEFFERSON CITY • Five years after the Missouri Supreme Court struck down a law requiring anyone wishing to cast a ballot to provide a government-issued photo ID, the Missouri Legislature has put the matter before the voters.”


    http://blog.showmeprogress.com/diary/6211/voter-photo-id-ballot-proposal-faces-legal-challenge

    “”I cannot imagine anything more cynical and shameful than using the voting process itself to trick voters into giving up their rights,” said Denise Lieberman, senior attorney for Advancement Project, a civil rights organization that works to eliminate barriers to voting and has been fighting photo ID laws across the country. “Just as the Missouri Supreme Court rejected Missouri’s photo ID law as a ‘heavy and substantial burden’ on voting rights, the court should reject this deceptive initiative. It does not make clear to voters that they will be giving up a fundamental right.”

    The lawsuit – the first-ever challenge to a constitutional amendment on photo ID laws and the first lawsuit in the nation filed challenging the rash of photo ID proposals introduced in states across the country this year- was filed on Wednesday and names eight Missouri voters as plaintiffs….”

  7. Mr. DeRosa:

    1. Voting to raise the debt ceiling is an exercise without substance, as silly as the debt limit itself. It is a cousin to the much discussed balanced budget amendment, a plea by an alcoholic to stop him before he takes another drink. And were we to lock the liquor cabinet this afternoon, someone would locate another key before happy hour. Since you appear to favor political, rather than legal, solutions to political problems, I suspect you would agree that the proper solution to fiscal irresponsibility is not to amend the Constitution, but to amend the congressional membership roll.

    2. As for the comments of mahtso and Bdaman, I was disabused of the effectiveness of the “Jimmy did it, too” argument by the time I was, oh, 9 or 10.

  8. Lottakatz: I don’t think we’ll ever find Tom Tomorrow in the morning paper.

    Swarthmore mom: Thanks so much for the really depressing link.

  9. rafflaw:

    I agree with your comment about Perry’s electoral prospects. But I also believe that he can suck up HUGE amounts of money for a campaign.

  10. Mike A.,
    he can no doubt get some decent money, but with so many Republican candidates running for office, they are all competing for a finite amount of funds. I think they are spending themselves to death.

  11. Nowhere on American news media is the real issue behind the debt problem even alluded to. Not even Ron Paul has the stones to say it. The Federal Reserve scam. The unconstitutional control of U.S. currency by a cartel of private banks.

    “If Americans ever allow banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation and then by deflation, the banks will deprive the people of all property until their children will wake up homeless”
    – Thomas Jefferson

    “Give me control of a nation’s money and I care not who makes her laws.”
    – Mayer Amschel Rothschild

    “It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.”
    -Henry Ford

    “Most Americans have no real understanding of the operation of the international money lenders. The accounts of the Federal Reserve System have never been audited. It operates outside the control of Congress and manipulates the credit of the United States” — Sen. Barry Goldwater (Rep. AR)

    “We have, in this country, one of the most corrupt institutions the world has ever known. I refer to the Federal Reserve Board. This evil institution has impoverished the people of the United States and has practically bankrupted our government. It has done this through the corrupt practices of the moneyed vultures who control it”. — Congressman Louis T. McFadden in 1932 (Rep. Pa)

  12. First, the Federal Reserve prints the money. Then, with a hefty amount of interest attached upwards of over 30%, it is loaned to the nation. Say, for example, we are loaned 1Trillion dollars. Unknown to most of the public, that interest must be paid back. 30% of a Trillion is approximately 3.33 Billion dollars. That is the amount that must be paid back on top of what has been borrowed. Totaling 1.333 trillion dollars. Here is where it gets really crazy. If there was only 1 Trillion printed, how could we possibly pay back 1.333 trillion ? The answer is simple. You can’t pay it back, ever. It’s a never-ending cycle of debt becasue of the compunded interest. The Gregg report admitted that income tax is almost entirely spent servicing the interest on a debt to the Federal Reserve – private banks! When the loan is finally called in we are forced to pay all that we have and then borrow more to cover interest payment and living expenses.

    To guarantee themselves interest payments, along side the Federal Reserve Act was the Income Tax law know as the 16th Amendment to the Constitution. Prior to 1913 there was no such thing as an income tax. The sole purpose of this tax was to make payments to the Federal Reserve to the issuance of our currency.

    This is the ‘Federal Reserve’ :

    1. Rothschild Banks of London and Berlin
    2. Lazard Brothers Bank of Paris
    3. Israel Moses Sieff Banks of Italy
    4. Warburg Bank of Hamburg, Germany and Amsterdam
    5. Kuhn Loeb Bank of New York
    6. Lehman Brothers Bank of New York
    7. Goldman Sachs Bank of New York
    8. Chase Manhattan Bank of New York (Controlled By Rockefellers)

    End the scam. Write your Congressman to repeal the Federal Reserve Act of 1913. Fight the power.

  13. Correction, 330 billion, but you catch my drift … and the actual ROI is unknown tu we mere mortals …..

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