Both houses of congress passed the debt ceiling this week with no strings attached. That means that global investors will be assured that the United States will honor its commitments until at least March 15, 2015. Should we care?
Aside from the moral question of paying one’s debt payments on time and a real catastrophe if we don’t, the debt ceiling has been one eleventh hour deal after another. It has been pure political theatre in this country since 2009. In the Republican-controlled House, only 18 out of the GOP’s 232 majority voted for the bill. Two democrats voted against it. Are you surprised?
If one were naive enough to believe that the Republicans actually believed that America’s “out-of-control debt ceiling” was the most dangerous threat to this country, well, I have a bridge I can sell you in Brooklyn.
Both parties clearly understand that the debt ceiling is simply the money that we already owe to our debtors. It is money already spent by our government. Read my lips: by the time it has become debt it has already been spent.
The truth is that both sides of the aisle continue to spend money like drunken sailors. The only difference is in what they buy—guns or butter. Take the latest farm bill, for example. Food stamps were cut, thanks to the GOP, but farm subsidies to the nation’s farmers (of whom 80% are giant corporations) sailed through the House to the tune of $1 trillion is spending over the next five years. What needs to be reduced is the money government is spending month after month and year after year and there’s no indication that will change anytime soon no matter who is in power.
Remember that it is the Republican-controlled states (Red States) that receive the majority of government social spending. For all of their posturing about reducing “welfare spending,” the Republicans are not about to bite the hand that feeds them. It’s simply the mix of spending that changes between the two parties, not the amount.
Historically, the Democrats tend to spend more on social programs. The Republicans maintain social spending, while cutting taxes. Democrats and Republicans alike have always been happy to spend on defense. Bottom line: both approaches increase the deficit and the debt ceiling.
Clearly, the abrupt turnaround in the Republican’s willingness to drop the debt ceiling issue has everything to do with the coming mid-term elections this year. The 16-day, Federal government shut-down last year was a national fiasco. As a result, Republican strategists quickly decided that the party needed to take a break from confrontational politics, at least until the elections are over.
They are counting on the fact that we will forget their past sins by the time November rolls around. It remains to be seen whether voters will be dumb enough to accept their new image as the party of compromise but if they do, and then the GOP has a good chance of capturing a majority in both houses this fall. If their strategy fails, they can always quickly return to partisan politics. Readers please note that the debt ceiling deal expires in March of 2015 and that is no coincidence.
The pretense that the debt ceiling is some kind of line in the sand that America must not cross is misleading, if not downright duplicitous. At least investors will be spared the needless drama of a debt ceiling battle for the remainder of this year. Hopefully, after the election, both parties will relinquish the debt ceiling as their favorite hostage but I won’t hold my breath.