Posts tagged with 'debt ceiling'
This week marks the final edition of the Weekly Audit. It has been a pleasure compiling the best financial and economic writing in the Media Consortium. Thanks to all the contributors whose work we’ve showcased and to all the loyal readers who have shared in this experience.
Debt Ceiling 101
As the Weekly Audit wraps up, we’re looking ahead to some critical economic issues facing the country. Christen Simeral and Veronica Beebe of The American Prospect explain what the debt ceiling is and why the debate over raising it is shaping up to be the political battle of the year.
In short, the debt ceiling is the maximum amount the government can borrow. The debt ceiling is currently $14.294 trillion. At the current rate of spending, we’re due to hit the wall around May 16, if Congress doesn’t vote to raise it. Usually, raising the debt ceiling is a formality. Congress has voted to raise the debt ceiling 10 times in the last 10 years.
If the debt ceiling isn’t raised, the government can’t take on any new spending commitments. Worse still, the government may not have the cash it needs to pay tax refunds, Social Security payments, and other critical disbursements. Failing to raise the debt ceiling would hurt the U.S.’s credibility in global markets, making it more expensive for us to borrow money in the future.
The war on unions
All across the country, right wingers are trying to turn union workers into scapegoats for the nation’s economic woes.
Right wing media baron Andrew Breitbart tried to frame some labor history instructors at the university of Missouri by deceptively splicing together hours of classroom footage to make it look like the professors were advocating violence and sabotage, Dave Gilson of Mother Jones reports. The unedited video shows that the instructors are discussing the bloody history of the American labor movement, in which violence has overwhelmingly been perpetrated by management against workers.
Multinational corporations are renewing their lobbying push for more NAFTA-like trade deals, Michelle Chen reports for Colorlines.com:
The construction giant Caterpillar is reportedly planning to treat its workers to steaming cups of Colombian coffee in the coming weeks, to warm them to the benefits of doing business with their “partners” in Latin America. While employees enjoy their break, lobbyists will be working hard, in their name, to peddle so-called “open markets” in Colombia, Panama and South Korea.
Chen reports that lobbyists for multinationals are besieging Congress to push for three new accords. The Panama deal is expected to be first on the agenda. Advocates for fair trade have been fighting these deals since the George W. Bush administration.
The push for deregulated international trade is on at the state level, too. The conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is handing out boilerplate resolutions to state representatives urging Congress to approve the trade deals. Chen notes that the Koch Foundation is among the major backers of ALEC.
High gas prices
Gas prices have long been seen as a bellweather of the electorate’s state of mind. When gas is cheap, incumbents rest a little easier. When gas prices rise, challengers start licking their chops. Daniel J. Weiss and Valeri Vasquez report in Campus Progress that rising gas prices are frustrating consumers and enriching speculators:
This year “it’s like déjà vu all over again.” Oil prices are rising to heights not seen since 2008. Oil rose from $85 per barrel to $112 per barrel in a little more than two months—a whopping one-third leap. Gasoline prices have followed along, rising by 70 cents per gallon—or 23 percent—during this same time. As our economy struggles to recover from the Great Recession, Americans are again forced to pinch pennies to afford their commute to work, school, and worship. Meanwhile, oil companies prepare to reap record profits in the first quarter of 2011.
The authors note this combination of rising pump prices and soaring corporate profits looks an awful lot like the oil shock of 2008, which helped push the economy into recession.
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The latest contrived showdown between Congressional Republicans and the White House is over what concessions the GOP will demand in order to increase the federal debt ceiling.
George Zornick of The Nation explains how the shakedown works:
Congress now needs to approve any borrowing past the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, which the United States will reach “no later” than May 16, according to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. If Congress doesn’t raise the debt ceiling, the government would have to stop spending—including stopping interest payments on those Treasury bonds, meaning that the United States would effectively default on its debt.
The debt ceiling has to be raised and everyone knows it. Surely the Republicans knew it when they voted for tax cuts for the rich with borrowed money. If the debt ceiling is not raised, the United States will default on some of its obligations. Just like what happens after you miss a credit card payment, the country’s creditors will demand higher interest in order to lend to us in the future.
Playing chicken with the debt ceiling is a recipe for increasing the national debt. Paul Waldman argues in The American Prospect that the Republicans hate government so much that they are willing to declare war on the economy in a quixotic bid to smash the state:
The reason we’re now seeing an unprecedented amount of attention paid to a vote that ordinarily passes with little notice is that the Republican Party’s agenda is being set by a group of ideological radicals who seem quite willing to cripple the American economy if that’s what it takes to strike a blow against the government they hate so much.
At AlterNet, Joshua Holland explains why failure to raise the debt ceiling would be an economic catastrophe that could jeopardize the economic recovery. “Peak Crazy,” he calls it.
However, Holland notes that a showdown over the debt ceiling does not risk an immediate government shutdown, like the one we faced over the budget battle. Borrowing isn’t the only way that government agencies are funded. The government could still spend the $150 billion or so it takes in every month in tax revenue, for example.
Yet, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) has announced that 47 GOP senators oppose raising the debt ceiling unless “credible attempts” are made to cut federal spending. Meanwhile the Tea Party is launching an all-out lobbying effort to urge House Republicans not to raise the debt ceiling without major spending cuts.
The Tea Party’s wish list includes some total pipe dreams like a balanced budget amendment to the constitution, and a law to require a two-thirds majority for all future tax increases. Former senator and current U.S. presidential hopeful Rick Santorum cheerfully announced that he would let the United States default on its debt if health care reform is not repealed. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn) helpfully suggests paying the interest on Treasury Bills using money that would otherwise go to Social Security.
Shoot the hostage
Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks argues that Democrats are panicking needlessly and, once again, offering needless preemptive concessions to the Republican fringe in the form of a proposed “hard cap” on government spending, which would cap new government spending, and subtract any overruns from social welfare programs like Medicare and Social Security.
The truth, Uygur notes, is that Wall Street has already told the Republicans in no uncertain terms that the debt ceiling will be raised. The economic consequences of doing anything else would be unthinkable. The Tea Party can yell and scream, but the adults have already made the decision. Knowing this, Democrats should not be trying to placate the Republicans so as to induce them to do something they will ultimately end up doing.
Digby on Social Security
Democrats are wavering in their decades-long commitment to defend Social Security, Heather Digby Parton (a.k.a., “Digby”) writes in In These Times:
In a quixotic attempt to fix the problems in the current economy without confronting the plutocrats, the Democrats are using the illogical argument that since Social Security is projected to have a shortfall in 35 years, we must cut benefits now. And they seek to prove to “the market” that the government is fiscally responsible by showing it’s willing to inflict pain on its citizens—in the future.
Even if we do nothing, Social Security can pay out full benefits for the next 35 years. There is no crisis. A small increase on the payroll cap on Social Security could shore up the program for generations to come. Republicans oppose Social Security because they are ideologically opposed to social welfare programs, not because Social Security is broken.
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Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) is calling for a “big showdown” over the upcoming vote to raise the nation’s debt ceiling to $14.3 trillion from $13.9 trillion. The debt ceiling is simply the maximum amount the government can borrow.
Congress routinely raises the debt ceiling every year. It’s common sense: Since the government has already pledged to increase spending, Congress must authorize additional borrowing. (Remember that the government is now forced to borrow billions of extra dollars to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy, which Republicans insisted on.) If the ceiling isn’t raised, the United States will be forced to default on its debts, with catastrophic consequences.
Why would default be catastrophic? The principle is the same for countries and consumers alike: If you have a good track record of paying your bills, lenders will lend you money at lower interest rates. If you don’t pay your bills on time, or default on your obligations altogether, lenders will demand higher interest rates. (more…)