Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Lesson In Debt Ceiling

Our trustee Blue Dog spender checks in to give us a little background on the federal debt ceiling.  I'm including parts of his write up.  You can read the entire piece here.  Enjoy.

The debt limit is a statutory cap on the amount of debt the federal government borrows. It applies to federal debt such as U.S. bonds and Treasury Bills. This debt is owned by creditors such as taxpayers, pension funds and foreign governments. In essence, it is money the country has borrowed to operate and must eventually pay.

Raising our nation’s debt limit is not a new issue. In 1917, as the United States entered into World War I, Congress authorized the Department of Treasury to finance the war, but placed a limit on the amount of debt that could be taken. Since 1980, the debt ceiling has been raised 39 times. Our debt limit has been increased in increments and has never been politicized or held hostage to accomplish ideological goals.

Recent Years

Raising the debt ceiling has been a non-partisan issue. President Ronald Reagan, a Republican, raised the debt ceiling 17 times, the most of any president.

In the 1990s, the debt limit was raised four times under President Bill Clinton and since 2001, the debt limit has been increased 10 times, including seven times under President George W. Bush and three times under President Barack Obama. Not only have presidents of both parties raised the debt limit, but members of Congress from both parties have voted with them. Republican leadership including Speaker John Boehner and Majority Whip Eric Cantor have voted twice to raise the debt limit.

Debunking Debt Ceiling Myths

Not raising the debt ceiling is a way to control future government spending.

This is not true. We’ve heard some say that refusing to raise the debt ceiling is like ‘cutting up America’s credit card’, but a more appropriate analogy would be cutting up our credit card bill. Failing to raise the debt ceiling amounts to a refusal to pay the bills our country has already incurred – which not only sets a terrible example for our children – it also would lead to a credit rating downgrade, leading to higher interest rates and actually increasing our deficit.

Americans will be unaffected if the U.S. defaults – it won’t have a significant impact on me.

False. If the United States does not pay its owed debt by Aug. 2, the Treasury Department will be forced to prioritize payments and pick ‘winners and losers’. On Aug. 3, Social Security checks that are supposed to be sent out to beneficiaries are at risk if the debt ceiling is not raised. As the school year begins in August, many incoming college students will be relying on their Pell Grants to pay for their education expenses – this may not get funded. Even funding Military Active Duty Pay, the FBI and prison systems would be at risk for payment. Every month, the Department of Treasury makes 80 million payments and every one – from veterans to the Federal Highway Administration – will be affected, including me and you.
The Truth

I believe our situation is best summed up by President Ronald Reagan, who wrote to then-Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker:

“The full consequences of a default, or even the serious prospect of default by the United States are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate.”

Not raising the debt ceiling would amount to playing ‘chicken’ with our 401Ks, mortgages, pension funds, unemployment benefits, social security payments and tax refunds to small businesses. It would not only be irresponsible, it would cause self-inflicted global financial wreckage that neither the U.S. nor the world can afford.

The part that worries me is where it says that "Social Security checks .... are at risk."  What does that mean for my mother?  I really hope something happens before the end of the month, because I don't like all this talk about people not being payed and veterans being short-changed.  What's interesting is that I haven't heard anyone say, 'if we default, congress and all its staffers won't get paid.'  Not that it would matter; most politicians are pretty well off.  What would they have to worry about?

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