(Alternate title: The Ceiling! The Ceiling! The Ceiling’s On Fire!)
OK, let’s talk red ink. The US government is rapidly approaching its debt ceiling of 14.3 trillion dollars (let’s write that out — $14,300,000,000,000.00), with estimates we’ll hit it around March or April. The Republicans are talking about saying “no mas” and cutting enough to keep it from getting there. The Democrats are running around, screaming about apocalypse and defaults and shutdowns should we not raise it to allow Washington to keep on spending borrowed money.
I find myself, oddly enough, agreeing with Barack Obama. Not President Obama, but Senator Obama, who said in 2006:
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. … Increasing America’s debt weakens us
domestically and internationally. Leadership means that ‘the buck stops
here. Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today
onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt
problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.
Of course, that, like nearly all Obama statements, had an expiration date. The thought that the US government owing 8.9 trillion dollars is catastrophic; that it would owe 14.3 trillion a mere four years later, not so much. Naturally, the White House spin on that is that Obama didn’t really mean what he said; he only spoke out because he knew he was safe in doing so; the raise would go through. This should not be taken as crass opportunism or lying, because… well, it’s Obama talking. It’s just the way he is.
But we’re in a new era now, and compromise is the order of the day. In the House, Speaker Boehner is planning on giving a bit more power and influence to the minority, and in the Senate, the Democrats are talking about modifying the filibuster rule to make it a smidgen more difficult — but not banning it entirely. So, in that spirit, let me offer my own compromise position on the debt ceiling:
We raise it to 15 trillion dollars immediately… but with a provision that it comes right back down to 14 trillion on December 31, 2011. And if we really want to be serious, we say it has to come down half a trillion dollars every year after that.
The Republicans in the House have the votes to make that stick. They can pass it to the Senate, and then kill any move to repeal the downsizing.
That takes the wind out of the sails of the “oh, no, we don’t have enough time!” crowd, yet puts a hard — even harder than we have now — deadline on fixing the fundamental problem.
Plus, it will give the Republican House a chance to work on the Democrats’ single greatest abuse of the power and public trust they foisted on us during their four years in the House: their refusal to even introduce a budget for the current fiscal year. For that alone, I’d have no problems with every Democrat Representative from the 111th Congress charged with treason. Or, at least, have to give back their pay for their term.
It’s a fair compromise. It addresses the expressed concerns of both sides. The Democrats get a little more time to manage the problem, and the Republicans are given a locked-in-stone debt ceiling that is actually lower than current.
Of course, it doesn’t address the Democrats unspoken concerns — why can’t they just keep borrowing and spending more and more and more money forever, and hope that the day of reckoning never comes? But quite frankly, I don’t feel like catering to their fatal fantasies.