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As Long as We Remember...

August 1, 2011

On the Debt Ceiling

Michael Kurtianyk

It was with great regret that many Americans not only watched President Barack Obama’s speech on the debate over the debt ceiling, but also the response by House Speaker John Boehner.


Were there ever two more polarizing viewpoints on an issue? Have there ever been two better examples of how low political rhetoric has fallen?


If you support President Obama, then you agree that we can raise the debt ceiling, while cutting spending. This viewpoint, by the way, was originally the Republican approach to solving the debt ceiling crisis. The Democrats switched sides.


If you support Speaker Boehner, then you agree that we shouldn’t raise the debt ceiling unless the legislation includes a cut, cap, and balance approach. This viewpoint, by the way, was originally the Democratic approach to solving the debt ceiling crisis. The Republicans switched sides.


Many hoped to see two people reach for the middle and find common ground. Alas, this did not happen. The time for debate is over. The time for posturing must end. There may be some truth that Washington is broken. However, we cannot institute a self-imposed default on repayment and think we’ll talk our way out of it.


What is one to do? Maybe we should seek to understand first.


What is the debt ceiling? It’s the cap set by Congress on the amount of debt the federal government can legally borrow. This applies to debt owed to the public and debt owed to federal government trust funds such as those for Social Security and Medicare.


Did you know that the debt ceiling was first set in 1917 ($11.5 billion). The debt ceiling, currently, is set at $14.294 trillion. According to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, we have until August 2nd (that’s tomorrow, people) to raise the debt ceiling. If not, then the Treasury Department would not have the authority to borrow any more money. Americans could face rising interest rates and a declining dollar, among other problems. As the cost of borrowing rises, individual mortgages, car loans and student loans could become significantly more expensive.


Since March 1962, the debt ceiling has been raised 74 times, according to the Congressional Research Service. During President George W. Bush terms in office it was raised seven times. During the Reagan years at was raised 18 times.


President Reagan, in a 1987 radio address, said this about the need to raise the debt ceiling:


"Congress consistently brings the government to the edge of default before facing its responsibility. This brinkmanship threatens the holders of government bonds and those who rely on Social Security and veterans benefits. Interest rates would skyrocket, instability would occur in financial markets, and the federal deficit would soar. The United States has a special responsibility to itself and the world to meet its obligations. It means we have a well-earned reputation for reliability and credibility – two things that set us apart from much of the world."


If the National Football League owners and players can come to an agreement, then surely our political leaders can.



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