April 19, 2023

The Debt Ceiling: How Bad Is It?

House Republicans want to tie a new ceiling to some sensible spending cuts, but our nation’s historically profligate president seems unwilling to negotiate.

Remember why the American people elected Joe Biden in 2020? Remember how he got those, er, 81 million votes? We’ll give you a hint: It wasn’t because of his integrity or his keen intellect. Instead, it was because Scranton Joe’s handlers presented him as The Unifier, as the bipartisan healer who’d restore decency and normalcy to the White House and to American politics.

And how’s that been working out?

We mention this because our nation is fast approaching $32 trillion in debt — the latest $6 trillion of which have been rung up in just the past two years — and this president will very shortly have to negotiate with House Republicans to hammer out a debt ceiling agreement to avoid defaulting. (Incidentally, $32 trillion works out to nearly $95,000 per American taxpayer, or $248,000 per American family.)

How else might we get a sense of how big $32 trillion is? Let’s look at it this way: If a $1 million stack of $100 bills is 40 inches high, then a $1 billion stack is 40,000 inches high, and a $1 trillion stack is 40,000,000 inches high — which is 631 miles.

Now multiply 631 by 32 to calculate the height of the stack of Ben Franklins needed to equal our $32 trillion national debt: 20,192.

That’s right. To pay off our national debt, you’d need a stack of $100 bills that reaches more than 20,000 miles into space.

Here’s another way to look at it: A million seconds is 12 days, and a billion seconds is 31 years, and a trillion seconds is 31,688 years. Which means 32 trillion seconds is 1,014,016 years.

Have a nice day.

Oddly, though, Biden has yet to give any indication that he’s willing to negotiate on a new debt ceiling. Just ask House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who noted the other night that the president hasn’t spoken a word to him since February 1. But he just got back from a really swell vacation in Ireland, so there’s that. As The Wall Street Journal reports:

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) said House Republicans plan to pass legislation raising the debt ceiling and curbing federal spending in the coming weeks, moving to establish a solidified GOP position in the negotiations with President Biden over the nation’s borrowing limit.

In a speech Monday at the New York Stock Exchange, Mr. McCarthy laid out House Republicans’ demands for agreeing to a debt-limit increase: They want Congress to place limits on federal spending, claw back Covid-19 aid and require Americans to work to receive federal benefits. Those measures will be paired with a debt-limit increase that will last into next year, Mr. McCarthy said.

“Let me be clear,” McCarthy said. “A no-strings-attached debt-limit increase will not pass. This will restore discipline to Washington.”

Democrats, though, appear to be in no mood for fiscal discipline — at least not with an election year coming up. They control the Senate, after all, and they ripped McCarthy’s demands.

“Speaker McCarthy is holding the full faith and credit of the United States hostage, threatening our economy and hardworking Americans’ retirement,” said Deputy White House Press Secretary Andrew Bates.

Biden himself has argued that Congress should give him a “clean” debt limit ceiling — that is, raise the nation’s debt limit without any adjustments to our nation’s ruinous, inflation-generating, children-beggaring fiscal policy.

“The longer President Biden waits to be sensible to find an agreement,” said McCarthy, “the more likely it becomes that this administration will bumble into the first default in our nation’s history.”

Just what sort of accommodations is McCarthy looking for? According to the Journal, McCarthy says the House Republican plan would require the federal government to pull back all the COVID-allocated money that’s yet to be spent. He also believes able-bodied Americans without kids or other dependents should have to work for their government benefits. These work requirements would apply to programs such as Medicaid and food stamps.

But, again, Biden hasn’t given any indication that he’ll budge.

Here, the Journal’s James Freeman points out the president’s hypocrisy:

In the past 35 years, there have been 8 major deficit reduction laws enacted by Congress. Every one of them was attached to legislation that raised the debt ceiling. And every one of them was bipartisan. Why? Because the problem gets solved only when both parties come to the table. When he was a Senator, Joe Biden voted for spending reforms attached to debt limit increases four times: In 1985. In 1987. In 1993. And in 1997.

Meanwhile, as the Journal’s Kim Strassel points out, “The GOP proposals meanwhile have the benefit of being considered and reasonable — especially in light of recent insane levels of spending.” Further, they might also attract at least a few Democrats who actually care about our abominable national debt.

And so, if the House GOP can stay united — yes, it’s a big “if” — then the White House might instead have to agree to a series of short-term debt ceiling hikes, which could be a long-term distraction. In which case Joe Biden’s handlers will have to decide if they prefer that scenario to a single big deal that pushes the debt ceiling past the 2024 election.

As Strassel continues: “No one wants a default, but no one can also deny political reality. The entity holding the debt ceiling hostage is a White House refusing to talk with a GOP House that wants a deal and now appears to know what it’s after.”

Democrats, of course, always have the upper hand in these debt ceiling deals. That’s because neither the mainstream media nor the American people seem to like government shutdowns and are therefore quick to blame Republicans, and because it’s a lot more fun to spend than it is to save, and because it’s a lot more fun to print money and give away goodies than it is to exercise even a modicum of fiscal responsibility on behalf of our children and grandchildren.

Can the House GOP stick together? As we see it, they have little choice. As Ben Franklin, the man whose visage graces that 20,000-mile stack of $100 bills, once put it, “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

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