COMMENTARY | The same day that 5,000 dead blackbirds rained from the night-time sky over the little Arkansas town of Beebe, the U. S. Treasury website, according to CBS News, reported that the national debt had topped the $14 trillion mark. Harbingers of bad times ahead? Perhaps, but not only had the national debt topped the $14 trillion level, but the ever-increasing debt did so just seven months after it climbed above the $13 trillion threshold (June 1). To make matters worse, the national debt is fast approaching the “debt ceiling,” that numerical limit imposed on the federal government by Congress where, once it has been met, additional loans are forbidden. The debt ceiling has also become a point of contention in Congress and one sure to prompt much political theatre before its passage — or its non-passage, something that has been described as defaulting by “pure insanity.”
Political analysts believe that the “debt ceiling” might be the newly convened 112th Congress’ first dance with gridlock, that state of inertia in a legislative body where nothing gets done with a certain measure or measures. Newly arrived Tea Party Republicans and veteran fiscal hard-liners seem determined to press the point that the federal government’s spending must be curbed, if not stopped altogether. But campaign promises of limiting government spending and cutting federal costs are one thing. Refusing to allow the debt ceiling to be raised, cutting off the government’s access to funding, and essentially shutting down the government because it has no funds upon which to operate is another.
Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, told ABC’s “This Week” that to even countenance such a political game of “chicken” and toying with the idea of a threat of government stoppage was “pure insanity.” He also noted that the “impact on the economy would be catastrophic.”
Why? Because if the U. S. defaults on its loans, most of which are secured through foreign investments in the U. S., it devalues America’s standing among nations, undermines the dollar, and basically states that the United States isn’t a reliable lending partner. Defaulting would also increase the risk of not being able to secure future loans, further destabilizing the currency and the economy, or securing loans at exorbitant rates or in exchange for trade or diplomatic agreements the U. S. would normally not enter into.
But legislators like Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) said it was time to stop the spending. She told CBS “Face The Nation,” ” Congress has had a big party the last two years. They couldn’t spend enough money. And now they’re standing back, folding their arms, saying, oh, taunting us – ‘How are you going to go ahead and solve this big spending crisis?'”
Yet, instead of offering proactive methods of reducing spending, Bachmann suggests simply not raising the debt ceiling, effectively making the federal government non-operational, its currency and trade standing uncertain. She placed the blame of the national debt on Democrats, but Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) disagreed.
“Let’s remember the deficit was exploded by Republicans,” she explained. “President Bush inherited a record surplus and turned it into a record deficit. Two wars unpaid for, a prescription drug plan unpaid for, tax cuts unpaid for. So the deficit that we found ourselves in was thanks to the Republicans.”
Bipartisanship in the 112th Congress may be a tortuous affair.
Yet, even though it seems there may be a move toward gridlock, there are those that propose compromise and actual solutions.
More proactive in his approach, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told NBC’s “Meet The Press” that he wants to see some type of Social Security reform before he is willing to raise the debt ceiling. “I will not vote for the debt ceiling increase,” he said, “until I see a plan in place that will deal with our long-term debt obligations starting with Social Security, a real bipartisan effort to make sure that Social Security stays solvent, adjusting the age, looking at means-tests for benefits.”
It isn’t clear how far veteran Republicans are willing to go to get their point across and many political analysts do not think they’ll allow the debt ceiling to be reached. That there is room for improvement in trimming the fiscal budget, in defunding or limiting excessive government programs and/or over-expenditures, or even eliminating some areas of government altogether is unquestionable. Where and how much, real spending reforms that can benefit the most people effectively for the longest duration, should be topics for consideration. But playing a game of political “chicken” with the debt ceiling to make a political point is tantamount to political recklessness and governing irresponsibility, no matter which side is making the threat.
Purposely allowing the government to slip into financial insolvency, unable to operate and pay its bills and repay its loans and, worse, devaluing America’s economic, credit, and trading good standing would be, to borrow Austan Goolsbee’s phrase ” the first default in history caused purely by insanity.”
But if Congress fails to find common ground on the issue, it could grind Congress to a halt, effecting gridlock, basically shutting the legislature down before running out of time and money does the same for the rest of the federal government.
Despite all the Republican rhetoric and bluster, there is little likelihood that an actual shutdown will occur, although anything is possible in the current extreme climate of Washington partisan politics. But even if the government was to temporarily shut down, unlike those unfortunate Arkansas blackbirds, the fiscal budget, federal government operations, and the American economy can be resurrected by a quick vote.
Saul Relative holds degrees in History and Secondary Education, and he taught school in West Virginia in the ’80s and Virginia during the ’90s. A student of politics and political movements, he began writing articles covering the political maneuverings of the Bush administration in 2004. Saul turned to writing full-time in 2008, dividing his time between reading and writing about politics and entertainment.