I rarely read any “news” anymore and never watch television news. I reckon I’m thereby spared being dragged into the muck that is American political discourse these days.
Even though I’ve tried to hide everyone on facebook who posts angry divisive nonsense, some of those posts still slip through. It is from such posts that I’ve discovered some fascinating things, such as the fact that President Obama is planning to consfiscate our guns (or more likely have the U.N. do it) and that the Tea Party plans to outlaw contraception. As Winston Churchill once quipped, “The best argument against democracy is a 15 minute conversation with the average voter.”
Meanwhile, as millions of Americans fret, worry and stew over such bizarre imaginary problems, our nation continues to sink hopelessly into an ocean of debt from which we will likely never emerge. To press the awkward metaphor, as the Welfare/Warfare State plows into a fiscal and monetary iceberg, the citizens are on deck arguing about the arrangement of the deck furniture. It’s exasperating.
All of which leads me to the reason for this rant. I heard on the radio that a fight is brewing over the extension of the so-called debt ceiling. Now that would seem to be something worth a good fight. At least it would merit some serious discussion from any grown-ups in the room.
But what I heard instead was the usual drivel. According to the story, “the debt ceiling fight will hurt the economy.” There was no mention of what the debt itself might do the “economy.”
But it was the sound bites from the combatants in this “fight” that made me shake my head.
The “debt ceiling” supposedly limits the amount the federal government can borrow to continue operations. The term brings to mind a credit card borrowing limit. Except in this case the cardholder can increase the limit whenever it wants to, making the “limit” illusory and essentially meaningless.
The “ceiling” has been raised far more times in my lifetime than I’ve circled the sun (78 increases since 1960). To the best of my knowledge Congress has raised it every time there was a vote on it. They’ve never said no. In fact, until the mid-90s no special vote was required. If the budget exceeded the ceiling, then the ceiling was deemed automatically raised.
With the passage of the law requiring a separate vote, the political theater became especially amusing, in a tragic sort of way.
The debt ceiling was raised seven times during the Bush administration. During most of that time Republicans controlled the Congress as well as the White House. The debt ceiling increased by 90 percent under their regime, as did the national debt.
It has since been raised 3 times during the Obama administration, which has overseen a 57 percent increase in the national debt (so far). Not to be outdone, the Obama team seems determined to match or exceed the fiscal irresponsibility of its predessor.
Here’s the funny part. When the GOP was running up the debt ceiling and the national debt, folks like Paul Ryan were driving the train. Mr. Ryan, for example, voted routinely to increase the debt ceiling and supported every massive unfunded spending program the Bush administration proposed. Meanwhile, then-Senator Obama loudly protested the debt ceiling increases as irresponsible and unwarranted, and voted against them.
Fast forward. Now the blue team is in command, Mr. Obama is President and Mr. Ryan’s team is out of power. These days Mr. Ryan is a supposed leader of the alleged “fiscal conservatives” who are objecting to any increase of the ceiling. Mr. Obama has radically changed his tune as well, now demanding the increase and criticizing those who oppose it (as he once did).
It seems that we can count on the Democrats and Republicans to be diligent about our national debt only when they have no power to actually control it. I have no doubt, for example, that had Mr. Romney been elected, he and the rest of the elephant team would be calling for an increase in the debt ceiling (blaming the necessity on the recklessness of his predecessor, no doubt), while the Democrats would be objecting. That’s just the way this game is played.
And so it goes. Fiscal conservatism is easy when you have no power to actually make it happen. Wins votes from folks who have short memories, I reckon.
One of the most enduringly popular posts on this blog was from February, 2009, when I commented on the sudden and amazing conversion of the GOP to fiscal conservatism (HERE). “It seems that having a donkey in the White House has made all the elephants conservative again,” I wrote. But no matter what the newly printed Govco billboards say, some of us remember that Oceania has not always been at war with Eurasia.
Maybe we need to start manning the lifeboats.