A $4.4 billion US destroyer was touted as one of the most advanced ships in the world. Take a look at the USS Zumwalt, which has since been called a ‘failed ship concept.’

“Despite their cost, the Zumwalts have been plagued by equipment problems. Soon after its commissioning in 2016, the USS Zumwalt broke down in the Panama Canal. The second ship in its class, the USS Michael Monsoor, failed during sea trials the following year.

As a 2018 report from Military Watch Magazine noted the Zumwalts “suffered from poorly functioning weapons, stalling engines, and an underperformance in their stealth capabilities, among other shortcomings.”

“They have almost entirely failed to fulfill the originally intended role of multipurpose destroyer warships, while the scale of cost overruns alone brings the viability of the program into question even if the destroyers were able to function as intended,” the outlet said.

The Zumwalts lack several vital features, including anti-ship missiles, anti-submarine torpedoes, and long-range area-air defense missiles, the military expert Sebastian Roblin wrote in a 2021 National Interest article. Roblin called the destroyers an “ambitious but failed ship concept.”

And, noted Roblin, their weaponry wasn’t cheap. The ship’s long-range land-attack projectile guided shells cost roughly $800,000 each — about the same price as a cruise missile. The munitions were eventually canceled, considered too pricey to merit producing.

Roblin said the Zumwalt was produced based on “unrealistic” estimates that banked on minimal cost, despite coming in 50% over budget.”

Don’t Wait! The National Debt Is Only Getting Worse

“the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) attempted to attach some math to the difficult policy decisions that lie ahead. Regardless of when lawmakers decide to address the $30 trillion national debt, just stabilizing it (that is, implementing policies to stop it from growing relative to the nation’s economy as a whole) will require that “income tax receipts or benefit payments change substantially from their currently projected path.”

In short, taxes will have to go up and government services—including benefits from programs like Social Security and Medicare, the health insurance program for the elderly—will likely have to be reduced.

That’s hardly a new set of prescriptions. Debt-watchers have been warning for years that benefit cuts and tax increases will likely be needed to have any realistic shot at managing America’s long-term debt. (And, remember, we’re talking about what’s needed to merely stabilize the debt, not reduce or eliminate it).”

“If policy makers wait until the end of the decade to raise taxes and cut spending, the best-case scenario would leave the debt hovering around 120 percent of GDP over the long term. Waiting longer means higher debt levels forever and more severe consequences.”

“A larger amount of debt translates into reduced economic growth in the long run, as the cost of interest payments on the debt consumes dollars that could otherwise be put to productive use. As the CBO notes, persistently high levels of debt can also put upward pressure on interest rates and make it more difficult to combat inflation.”

Biden administration eases student loan forgiveness through income-based repayment plans

“The Biden administration on Tuesday announced changes to federal student loan repayment plans that will make it easier for millions of borrowers to have their debts forgiven after being required to pay for 20 or 25 years.

Education Department officials said they would make a one-time revision to millions of borrower accounts to compensate for what they called longstanding failures of how the agency and its contracted loan servicers managed the income-driven repayment programs. Democrats and consumer groups have been calling on the Biden administration to enact such a policy in recent months.

The income-driven repayment programs are designed to provide loan forgiveness to borrowers who have been making payments tied to their income for at least 20 or 25 years. But few borrowers have successfully received relief under those plans, which Democrats have long promoted as an important safety-net for struggling borrowers.”

“The Education Department said it would make a one-time adjustment to borrower accounts to provide credit toward loan forgiveness under income-driven repayment for any month in which a borrower made a payment. Officials will credit borrowers regardless of whether they were enrolled in an income-driven repayment plan.”

“Department officials said they would credit borrowers for months in which borrowers were in long-term forbearances or any type of deferment before 2013. But borrowers will not receive automatic credit for months in which they were in default or enrolled in shorter-term forbearances or certain types of deferments after 2013.”

“The Education Department said the changes lead to “immediate debt cancellation” for at least 40,000 borrowers under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and “several thousand” borrowers under income-based repayment programs.

A further 3.6 million borrowers will receive at least three years of retroactive credit towards loan forgiveness under income-driven repayment. The credit will be automatically applied to borrower accounts, regardless of whether a borrower is currently enrolled in an income-driven repayment plan”

Hey, Nancy Pelosi: ‘National Debt Should Be a Top Priority’

“inflation and high debt create a trap for policymakers: higher inflation could lead the Federal Reserve raise interest rates, which would increase the payments owed on the debt.”

“the 24 lawmakers who signed [the] letter are asking for two policies that are the lowest of low-hanging fruit. First, they are seeking the creation of a bipartisan debt commission, similar to one implemented during President Barack Obama’s first term that helped trigger modest reductions in annual budget deficits following the Great Recession.
Commissions are a great way for lawmakers to make it look like they’re doing something without actually doing it, of course, but in this case, it might be a helpful exercise. It has been so long since debt and deficit politics have featured prominently in politics that it’s not clear whether there is a workable coalition in Congress to address the debt. A commission may help organize and focus those debates—and may raise further awareness among voters.”

Inflation Means Interest Rates Could Rise. Higher Interest Rates Will Make the National Debt More Expensive.

“consider the public debt—especially the federal debt, which ballooned as a result of large budget deficits in recent years. (In 2020, the federal government raised $3.4 trillion in revenue and spent $6.6 trillion.) The interest cost of the national debt was $253 billion in 2008, equivalent to $325 billion in 2021 dollars; it remained around that level through 2015. Even though the debt doubled in those years, sharply falling interest rates and low inflation helped contain costs.

But that was yesterday. With today’s higher inflation and rising interest rates (perhaps with more to come), the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the interest cost of public debt is $413 billion in 2021, stated in current dollars. Obviously, any dollar spent on interest cannot be spent on government benefits or services.

Looking ahead, the CBO expects more of the same. For 2026, it projects that the interest rate on 10-year Treasury bonds, currently 1.5 percent, will be 2.6 percent, and that the interest cost of the federal debt will rise to $524 billion. For 2030, the projections are 2.8 percent and $829 billion, respectively, all stated in current dollars for the noted years.

Now we are talking about real money. To put $829 billion into perspective, in 2020 the United States spent $714 billion on the military, $769 billion on Medicare, and $914 billion on all nondefense discretionary spending, all stated in 2020 dollars. Back-of-the-envelope calculations strongly suggest that some spending categories will have to give.”

Turns out the Senate can make an exception to the filibuster if it wants to

“Lawmakers voted 50-49 to raise the debt limit by $2.5 trillion, a figure that’s expected to tide the government over until after the midterm elections next fall. Every one to two years, it’s vital for the US to address the debt ceiling to cover past spending and make sure the government doesn’t default; if it did, it would likely have catastrophic economic consequences globally.

Interestingly, the resolution succeeded because it did not require 60 votes to clear a filibuster in the Senate after lawmakers passed a bill last Thursday granting a one-time exception to the rule.

The deal to suspend the filibuster was bipartisan; leaders of both parties have hesitated to make exceptions to the filibuster, a procedural rule requiring a Senate supermajority to pass legislation, if it gets blocked by the opposition. Senators were willing to make an exception in this case, for two reasons.

One, it enabled Democrats to approve the debt limit resolution on their own, with no Republican support. Republicans wanted to withhold their votes in hopes of weaponizing Democrats’ vote to raise the debt ceiling in future campaigns. Two, the deal allowed a vote to be held quickly, narrowly avoiding the December 15 default deadline calculated by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

This last-minute deal enabled lawmakers to avert a debt default and massive economic crisis while overcoming a partisan impasse on the subject. For some Democrats, too, it revealed that exceptions to the filibuster are possible — and an option lawmakers should consider for other bills.”

“The debt ceiling vote has opened the door to questions of whether Democrats would consider filibuster exceptions for other bills, like voting rights protections. Activists, and some Democratic lawmakers, have called for this in recent months amid failures to advance voting rights protections, police reform, and a $15 minimum wage due to GOP opposition in the Senate. But a filibuster exemption for policy changes is likely to be difficult to secure.

This time around, Democrats were only able to get an exception because it was for something Republicans actually wanted. Though there was enough GOP opposition to raising the debt limit that getting 60 Senate votes was in doubt, Republican leaders like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell did not want the US to default. Those leaders made sure the exception passed for the good of the domestic and global economy. Without Republican support, Democrats likely wouldn’t be able to approve another exception in this same way.

That leaves Democrats with another challenging option: banding together for a rules change. Those sorts of modifications can be done by majority vote. But that would require the support of all 50 Democratic caucus members, which party leaders don’t currently have. Moderate Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) have staunchly opposed such changes thus far.

Still, this development has made it clear lawmakers do have another option to consider for bills that can’t pass via budget reconciliation, and has set a recent precedent for such carveouts. Now that it’s been done once, expect to hear calls to do it again. In fact, this filibuster carveout has sparked new conversation about how else this tactic could be used.”

The Perverse Incentives of Puerto Rico’s Debt Deal

“While Puerto Rico has failed to make debt service payments since 2017, government spending is up over 12 percent since then despite a drastic population decrease. Long says Puerto Rican officials are realizing “how easy it is to hide financial data, pretend austerity, and fool their creditors.” For its part, she adds, the U.S. government is creating all the incentives for Puerto Rico “to become a serial defaulter, like Argentina,” a country on the brink of its tenth default since 1816.

The comparison is ominous; Argentina’s longstanding practice of acquiring heaps of debt on the global markets before failing to repay it reflects the workings of its internal politics. As scholars Pablo Spiller (of the University of California, Berkeley) and Mariano Tomassi (of the Universidad San Andrés in Argentina) wrote in 2007, Argentina’s brand of federalism combines decentralized spending for the provinces with largely centralized tax collection and funding schemes. The system, which began to arise in the late 19th century, still motivates “subnational governments [to] adopt a lax fiscal stance in the expectation that they will be bailed out in the event of a fiscal crisis.”

In turn, they write, the top regional politicians tend to be the crony machine operators “who are best at the game of extracting rents from the common central pool.” Similarly, negotiating rescue packages with the International Monetary Fund has become a part of an Argentine president’s unofficial job description. Will governors of Puerto Rico assume the same role vis-à-vis the White House and Congress?

Certainly, U.S. taxpayers should consider the long-term consequences of their bailout of Puerto Rico, where children of politicians tend to be overrepresented as recipients of six-figure government salaries and seven-figure government contracts. The habitual debt busts of Buenos Aires is one Latin American export that is better left on the dock.”

Inflation Will Make Government Budget Problems Worse

“inflation is real. The all-item consumer price index (CPI) was up more than 5 percent on a year-over-year basis for July, August, and September, and now shows a 6.2 percent increase for October—the largest jump since 1990. The Fed considers 2 percent inflation to be its bright-line monetary policy goal. Obviously, there is a large gap between that and what we are seeing on the ground.”

“Individuals whose salaries, wages, Social Security payments, and even mortgage interest or rental rates are automatically adjusted for inflation have much less to worry about than their neighbors on fixed salaries, who must cope with ballooning grocery bills or pay twice as much at the pump. On these grounds, inflation may be devastating for some and almost meaningless for others. These gaps widen as inflation gets worse.”

“The rate of inflation gets captured in interest rates that borrowers must pay, especially for longer-term debt. Lenders hope to be paid back with at least as much purchasing power. If they believe inflation will tick away at 4 percent, interest rates tend to rise with this baked-in expectation.
In any case, higher interest rates mean higher interest costs on all forms of public and private debt. As a result, mortgage rates will rise, all forms of construction will suffer, and businesses will postpone making large investments in plants and equipment.

Now consider the public debt—especially the federal debt that ballooned from large deficits in recent years. (In 2020, federal revenues were $3.4 trillion and spending was $6.6 trillion.) The interest cost of the national debt in 2008 was $253 billion and remained at about that level through 2015. Even though the debt doubled in those years, sharply falling interest rates and low inflation worked to contain costs.

But that was yesterday. With today’s higher inflation and rising interest rates (perhaps with more to come), the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates the interest cost of public debt to be $413 billion in 2021. Obviously, any dollar spent on interest cannot be spent on government benefits and services to taxpayers.”

40 Years of Trillion-Dollar Debt

“Rising costs of entitlement programs and the interest on the debt itself are the primary reasons why the debt will keep growing. In other words, even cutting a lot of discretionary spending would have little effect on the debt at this point.

The guilty parties are, well, both parties. It was fitting that the debt hit the symbolic $1 trillion figure during Reagan’s presidency, as the Gipper ignored his own warning. Republicans have spent much of the past 40 years venerating Reagan as an icon of conservative values, including supposedly limited government. And while his successors ran up far larger amounts on the nation’s credit card, Reagan saw the government surpass not only the $1 trillion debt threshold but also the $2 trillion threshold.”

“The guiding principle for today’s Democratic Party is the idea that debt doesn’t really matter if interest rates remain low. So long as the cost of servicing the federal debt stays below 2 percent, policymakers should not be restrained by the “traditional idea of a cyclically balanced budget,” Larry Summers, Clinton’s treasury secretary, and former Obama economic adviser Jason Furman argued in an influential paper published last year.

But the past 40 years would suggest that lawmakers have almost never been restrained by the idea of balanced budgets—a few brief interludes of fiscal sanity notwithstanding.

It took nearly two centuries for America to accumulate $1 trillion in public debt. It took 40 years to increase that amount 28 times over. If we refuse to address the breakneck speed at which America spends money it doesn’t have, how long until Clinton’s warning is realized, and that debt deals with us?