“The US is currently projected to hit its existing debt ceiling sometime in 2023, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center. While raising the ceiling should be relatively straightforward, it’s become a contentious process — and an opportunity for the minority party to extract policy concessions or score political points. Both parties have used debt ceiling increases to their advantage, but Republicans have done so much more frequently in recent years.
In 2011, for example, Republicans balked on suspending the debt limit and refused to move forward until President Barack Obama agreed to key spending cuts, concessions they ultimately secured. The US got so close to default that year, however, that Standard and Poor’s downgraded the country’s credit rating.
Political experts note that this disagreement marked one of the first times it seemed like lawmakers were actually willing to go over the edge, despite the economic chaos that could ensue. Were the US to actually default, that would likely downgrade the dollar and lead to a recession.
While a default has never happened, Republicans’ behavior in 2011 — and their current rhetoric — suggests that they’re more open to the possibility and taking such fights to that point.
Democrats, including in the White House, are reportedly considering preempting this worst-case scenario by tackling the debt ceiling this winter, according to Axios. The White House has denied that such conversations are happening.
There are also still questions about what a debt ceiling bill could look like. While some lawmakers including Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and a group of prominent House Democrats, have expressed support for doing away with the debt ceiling altogether, others, like Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), have opposed taking this route. That’s likely because such talks still offer an opportunity to evaluate spending, and because it could be a useful tool for Democrats should the GOP hold the White House and Congress.
In lieu of getting rid of the debt limit altogether, there’s been growing pressure on Democrats to consider increasing it to such a high value that there isn’t likely to be a standoff over the issue in the short term.”
“Inflation continued burning a hole in Americans’ wallets last month.
Prices rose by an average of 0.4 percent overall, driven primarily by rising costs for housing, food, and medical care. According to the newly released data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, prices rose by 8.2 percent overall during the last 12 months ending in September. Food prices have climbed by 11.2 percent in the past year, while energy prices are up by a whopping 19.7 percent despite falling by about 2 percent in September.”
“Particularly worrying is that so-called core CPI, which filters out more volatile categories like food and energy prices, rose by 0.6 percent last month. In other words, inflation is widespread throughout the economy and no longer contained to the categories that were driving the phenomenon a year ago. Far from being transitory, inflation now seems to be a deeply rooted problem.”
“rising interest rates needed to combat inflation will rebound onto the federal balance sheet by making the federal debt more expensive. Even when interest rates were at or near historical lows, interest payments on the national debt were on course to become one of the largest segments of the federal budget within the coming decade. Higher interest rates mean the government will have to spend a significantly larger amount of revenue on simply managing the existing debt—a nasty feedback loop that makes the government’s already untenable fiscal situation considerably 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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“it’s likely that many Americans don’t understand what the debt ceiling is or what raising it entails. Consider the high share of respondents who said they were unsure in The Economist/YouGov’s survey. Part of what’s tricky here is the debt ceiling refers to debt and financial obligations the U.S. has already accrued — such as interest on the country’s debt or previously authorized spending, like Social Security benefits. That is, the debt limit is not a tool that authorizes new spending, as such expenditures are decided in completely separate legislation, like a bill for the next federal budget.”
“past polls back up the idea that many people don’t grasp what it is or what the risks are if it’s not increased. In a 2013 HuffPost/YouGov poll, for instance, 42 percent of Americans correctly responded that a higher debt ceiling allowed the country to pay interest on its debt and spending that’s already been authorized, but 39 percent mistakenly said that the debt ceiling directly increased government spending and the amount of debt the U.S. holds. This survey also found plenty of uncertainty, as 20 percent said they weren’t sure what raising the debt ceiling meant. A poll by the Washington Post/Pew Research Center from 2011 — when the debt-ceiling debate was particularly fraught — also reflected a misunderstanding of the consequences of raising or not raising the debt limit. In the poll, more Americans were worried about what would happen if the debt ceiling was raised than if it wasn’t: 48 percent were more concerned that raising the debt ceiling would lead to more spending and debt, while 35 percent were more worried that not raising the cap would force a debt default and cause economic harm.”
“On the current path, the CBO predicted in March that the debt would grow to 102 percent of GDP by the end of 2021, to 107 percent by 2031, and 202 percent by 2051. It also predicted that by 2051, the federal government will be spending more than a quarter of its annual budget just to pay interest on the principal. But those estimates came before President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, which made the long-term budget outlook even worse.
What is the risk to the U.S. economy? Fiscal hawks have been sounding the alarm about rising debt levels for decades, but their nightmare scenario of runaway inflation hasn’t come to pass.”
“As the industrialized world racked up debt through the 2010s, inflation and interest rates stayed low—contrary to the warnings of the doomsayers.
This situation, Furman and Summers say, implies that the U.S. government has much more leeway to borrow money, spend it on government projects, and grow its way out of the debt than fiscal hawks have led us to believe. Furman argues that the story is much the same regarding the pandemic-era economy.”
“John Cochrane, an economist at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, disagrees. “If you wait until the crisis comes, everything is much much worse,” he says.
As a fiscal hawk, Cochrane acknowledges that his doomsaying has been wrong for the past decade, but he says that doesn’t mean he’s wrong now.
“I live in California. We live on earthquake faults.” Cochrane says. “We haven’t had a major earthquake, a magnitude nine, for about a hundred years.” It would be foolish to consider someone a doomsayer for preparing for an earthquake in California, he says, despite the fact that major earthquakes aren’t a common occurrence.
“That’s the nature of the danger that faces us. It’s not a slow predictable thing,” says Cochrane. “It is the danger of a crisis breaking out. So I’m happy to be wrong for a while, but that doesn’t mean that the earthquake fault is not under us and growing bigger as we speak.””
“”If it costs you…zero to borrow and something does more than zero, it’s worth doing,” says Furman. “It then needs to do a decent amount more than zero such that when you tax it…it pays itself back.” Furman claims that the expenditures that do this are limited, but says that the evidence points to the value of investing in children in areas like preschool and child health care.
Cochrane agrees that government spending on certain projects theoretically can boost growth, but he is skeptical of the government’s ability to spend the money wisely.”
“Furman and Summers’ paper also expresses concerns about debt projections beyond 2030 absent Social Security and Medicare reform as baby boomers retire en masse. Simpson and Bowles recognized that the bill on eldercare would eventually be the item to bust the budget.
“All else equal, addressing entitlements sooner is better than addressing entitlements later,” Furman says. “If you want to address it more on benefit reduction, then you probably do want an earlier start, I’m comfortable doing it on the tax side. I understand others probably want to do it on the benefits side. And if I were them, I’d want to get started sooner too.””
“”The question is where do you want to stabilize the debt,” says Furman. “People used to think it should be 30 percent of GDP. Is that what we need to do in order to be safe? I think if you’re asking that question without looking at interest rates, then you’re in danger of a very incomplete answer.”
“Most people acknowledge that there are limits but they envision slow, steady warnings. That you’ll see the problem coming and you’ll have plenty of time to fix things,” says Cochrane. “And I looked through history and I noticed that when things go wrong, they go wrong in a big crisis.””
“”Things always go boom all of a sudden, and so the key to fiscal management is to keep some dry powder around to have some ability to be able to borrow more,” Cochrane says. “Imagine if world war breaks out, and we’ve already borrowed the 100 percent debt-to-GDP ratio that we ended World War II with. Well, once we’re at a 100, 150, 200, our ability to meet that next crisis with borrowing is gone and then that next crisis is a catastrophe.””
“In a world in which economic reality mattered to politicians, grandiose spending plans coupled with soaring government debt would pretty much preordain grim tax policy. But we don’t live in that world. In ours, tax and spending proposals are crafted based on their appeal to target audiences of voters, with no regard for balancing books or averting financial catastrophe.”
“It’s necessary, though probably pointless, to emphasize that neither Trump’s nor Biden’s tax plans come close to paying for the federal government’s anticipated spending spree in the years to come.”
The Real News Podcast – Modern Monetary Theory – A Debate Between Randall Wray and Gerald Epstein The Real News. 2019. https://www.spreaker.com/user/therealnews/the-real-news-podcast-modern-monetary-th Is MMT “America First” Economics? Gerald Epstein. 3 20 2019. Institute for New Economic Thinking. https://www.ineteconomics.org/perspectives/blog/is-mmt-america-first-economics On Modern Monetary Theory