Is this the best we can do?
When I look at government – at every level but particularly at the federal level – the question that keeps coming to my mind is: Is this the best we can do?
I posed that question Tuesday in my commentary on FOX 51 concerning the impeachment of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. For this discussion, the topic is the lifting of the U.S. debt ceiling.
U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced last weekend that a deal has been reached between House Republican leadership and the Biden administration to lift the ceiling on the amount of money the U.S. Treasury can legally borrow, thereby avoiding a default on the payment of interest on money that has already been borrowed.
At the time of McCarthy’s announcement, that legal borrowing limit stood at an eye-watering $31.4 trillion and we have reached it. It’s the massive federal leviathan equivalent to you maxing out your MasterCard. Absent McCarthy’s deal getting through the Senate and onto Biden’s desk (it passed the full House late Wednesday evening), the U.S. Treasury will not have the immediately available cash in the bank to cover payroll and to make the minimum payment on the MasterCard, nor will it be able to go hit the VISA card for a cash advance.
Failure to timely pay interest on borrowed money is called a default. A default by the U.S. Treasury would send financial shockwaves around the world. Believe me, you’d feel it.
But McCarthy says he has made a good deal with the Biden White House to avoid that awful scenario and he has spent the time since putting a good spin on it.
According to a summary released by McCarthy’s office, the bill he authored, among other things, rolls total federal spending back to 2022 levels (McCarthy originally wanted it to be 2021, the conservative House Freedom Caucus wanted it to be 2019). The speaker is trumpeting the fact that this is the first time that federal spending has ever been reduced from one year to the next. (It might be good to fact check him on that but suffice that if it’s not the actual first time in the 234 years of our constitutional republic, it’s certainly the first time in living memory.)
According to McCarthy’s summary, the deal caps annual increases in spending at one percent for the next six years. I’m not sure how this Congress can bind a future Congress but let’s give it to him for now.
The deal reportedly eliminates the funding for Biden’s 87,000 new IRS agents. That assertion is disputed by the House Freedom Caucus as well as by several in the punditocracy. And it requires that if Congress can’t pass a budget in regular order (which it hasn’t done since 1996), any continuing resolution to keep the government running would be capped at 99 percent of prior fiscal year spending.
All of this is well and good. Biden said he wasn’t going to give an inch and Speaker McCarthy made him give a couple of feet. (It was nowhere close to a mile.)
But it all comes at the cost of raising the U.S. debt ceiling by $4.0 trillion. Heres’ a simple fact. This country cannot afford to take on another $4.0 trillion in debt. Interest on the national debt will very soon eclipse the annual appropriation for defense. It’s the household equivalent of the minimum payments on the MasterCard eating into the grocery and rent money.
What’s missing from any discussion anywhere in Washington over any of the past 30 years is any mention of balancing a budget and thereby beginning the process of reducing the debt. That happens to be what a majority of American taxpayers – Republicans and Democrats – want.
So why is it that campaign cycle after campaign cycle, politicians on the right give resolute stump speeches promising fiscal responsibility only to never deliver on those promises once in office?
Why is it that no politician of any party ever feels compelled to take concrete action toward meeting that clearly stated desire of the people who vote for them?
And that brings me back to the question. Is this the best we can do?
I confess that I’m afraid of the answer.