I know it seems impossible to think that our manchild-in-chief could actually come up with a favorable plan, but there are so many inherently stupid things that our government does, it’s actually fairly easy to stumble into good ideas thanks to pure confusion, and that’s exactly what happened here.
Per The Daily Beast:
At one point, according to two sources familiar with the exchange, Trump asked those gathered why it was that votes to raise the debt ceiling had to happen in the first place. Those votes are painful for leadership, who never want to support a debt ceiling hike but recognize that not doing so would risk economic calamity. After Trump asked his question, a source familiar with the discussion said, a conversation began about how the debt ceiling could be eliminated altogether.
There is no good reason for the debt ceiling to exist. It’s a made-up policy that has absolutely no influence over controlling our future debt. When Congress votes to raise the debt ceiling, what they’re doing is giving the government more room to pay debts that it has already incurred—meaning that if we don’t raise it, we won’t pay our bills (ie: no Social Security/Medicare checks going out, interest payments on the debt, etc…). The debt ceiling has nothing to do with future spending, and the penalty for not raising it is a catastrophe that would cripple the global economy on a scale like the Great Recession of 2008. Messing around with the debt ceiling is like playing with gasoline and matches inside of a fireworks factory that’s next to an ammunition depot.
The debt ceiling essentially places a loaded gun in the hands of the minority party in Congress, pointing it directly at the populace. It didn’t used to be a big deal, and it was raised whenever we ran up against it—but that all changed once Obama came into office (a smattering of politicians have always voted against it, but it never was in real peril of not being raised until 2011). Any economic calamity will always be blamed on the party in power, so the Republicans knew that not raising it would hurt the Democrats more than it would damage them, and they used the threat of tanking the global economy to gain policy concessions.
Lest we think that there is a difference between the parties on this topic, the Democrats just used that exact same tactic against Donald Trump at a time when the government also needed to approve additional funding to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey, with Hurricane Irma sitting on deck. The Republicans offered an 18-month increase so we don’t have to deal with this again until after the 2018 elections, but Trump took the Democrats’ 3-month offer for some reason, and now we will revisit this clusterfuck again in December.
Threatening to not raise the debt ceiling is a morally bankrupt position—no matter the party nor the circumstances. The economic calamity that would ensue should the debt ceiling not get raised would likely kill thousands, and would do permanent damage to America’s credit rating, raising borrowing costs for nearly an entire generation. This consequence is not up for debate because some it has already happened. In 2011, the Republican Party delayed raising the debt ceiling and demanded equivalent spending cuts in order to do so (so if we raised it by $1 trillion, they wanted $1 trillion in cuts). As a result, Standard & Poor’s downgraded America’s credit rating for the first time in our history. The Government Accountability Office estimated that this delay by the GOP cost America $1.3 billion in 2011 alone, and is certain that it raised our borrowing costs going forward.
Here’s an example of how cynical and deceiving this whole process is: who do you think said this?
The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies. Over the past 5 years, our federal debt has increased by $3.5 trillion to $8.6 trillion. That is ‘‘trillion’’ with a ‘‘T.’’ That is money that we have borrowed from the Social Security trust fund, borrowed from China and Japan, borrowed from American taxpayers. And over the next 5 years, between now and 2011, the President’s budget will increase the debt by almost another $3.5 trillion.
Sounds like Paul Ryan, right? Wrong. That’s Senator Barack Obama in 2006 explaining his vote against raising the debt ceiling. Five years later, President Obama would say this on Good Morning America:
I think that it’s important to understand the vantage point of a senator versus the vantage point of a president. When you’re a senator, traditionally what’s happened is, this is always a lousy vote. Nobody likes to be tagged as having increased the debt limit — for the United States by a trillion dollars. As president, you start realizing, you know what, we, we can’t play around with this stuff. This is the full faith and credit of the United States. And so that was just an example of a new senator making what is a political vote as opposed to doing what was important for the country. And I’m the first one to acknowledge it.
The debt ceiling has exactly zero benefits outside of being a political talking point. Obama basically said that it’s OK to eschew your responsibilities when you’re a senator because you can get away with it, but not when you’re president. The debt ceiling sounds like a prudent fiscal policy, but once you dig into it, it’s anything but. No other developed country has something like this, and it’s high time we joined the rational nations of the world.
The Washington Post
reports that Trump and Chuck Schumer have a “gentleman’s agreement” to find a way to repeal the debt ceiling, and we should all support this bipartisan effort to make American economic policy better. If you reflexively oppose anything Trump does simply because it’s Trump doing it, then you’re operating under the exact same political grievance model that so many of his supporters use. Policies matter more than politicians, and if you can’t see that through your Trump-rage, then that means you’re part of our seemingly intractable problem of political polarization. Trump is a monster who emboldens white nationalism, so I’m not saying that we should all of a sudden declare our undying support for him, but when he touches on a good idea, we should push him in that direction.
Isn’t that what politics is all about? Making our collective lives better? If so, then there is absolutely no argument against keeping the debt ceiling in place, as it solely benefits grandstanding congressmen just trying to win their next election, all while placing yours and my economic security in serious peril. Trump’s idea to eliminate the debt ceiling is by far the best proposal to come out of this administration, and he should be lauded if he actually does remove this economic hostage negotiation built-in to Congress, no matter your opinion on the rest of this trainwreck of a presidency.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.