Time To Put An End To Debt Ceiling

Debt

Congressional Democrats have pulled a fast one on Republicans by striking a deal with Trump to raise the federal debt ceiling only until the end of the year. This will give them bargaining leverage in December to strike a bigger bargain with Republicans: Democrats will agree to raise the debt ceiling then in return for Republican cooperation on legalizing Dreamers (unauthorized immigrants brought into the U.S. as children), making small but necessary fixes in the Affordable Care act, and other things Democrats seek.

Raising the debt ceiling is always a political football, used by whichever party is in the minority to extract concessions from the majority party or from the majority party’s president.

The debt ceiling is how much the government is allowed to borrow. It shouldn’t be a political football. It should be abolished. It serves absolutely no purpose.

When the debt ceiling was first adopted in 1917, it might have been a useful way to prevent a president from spending however much he wanted. But since 1974, Congress has had a formal budget process to control spending and the taxes needed to finance it.

There’s no reason for Congress to authorize borrowing for spending that Congress has already approved, especially when a failure to lift the debt ceiling would be so horrific.

Having a debt ceiling doesn’t discipline government, anyway. The national debt is obligations government has already made to those who lent it money. Discipline has to do with setting spending limits and legislating tax increases, not penalizing the lenders.

Which is why most modern democracies don’t have debt ceilings. Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Australia – they do just fine without explicit borrowing limits.

Even more basically, the nation’s debt is a meaningless figure without reference to the size of the overall economy and the pace of economic growth.

After World War II, America’s debt was larger than our entire Gross Domestic Product, but we grew so much so fast in the 1950s and 1960s that the debt kept shrinking in proportion.

Today’s debt is about 77 percent of our total national product. The reason it’s a problem is it’s growing faster than the economy is growing, so it’s on the way to becoming larger and larger in proportion.

This is what we ought to be focusing on. Fighting over whether or not to raise the debt ceiling is a meaningless and dangerous distraction. So abolish it.

About Robert Reich 547 Articles

Robert Reich is the nation's 22nd Secretary of Labor and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

He has served as labor secretary in the Clinton administration, as an assistant to the solicitor general in the Ford administration and as head of the Federal Trade Commission's policy planning staff during the Carter administration.

He has written eleven books, including The Work of Nations, which has been translated into 22 languages; the best-sellers The Future of Success and Locked in the Cabinet, and his most recent book, Supercapitalism. His articles have appeared in the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. Mr. Reich is co-founding editor of The American Prospect magazine. His weekly commentaries on public radio’s "Marketplace" are heard by nearly five million people.

In 2003, Mr. Reich was awarded the prestigious Vaclev Havel Foundation Prize, by the former Czech president, for his pioneering work in economic and social thought. In 2005, his play, Public Exposure, broke box office records at its world premiere on Cape Cod.

Mr. Reich has been a member of the faculties of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and of Brandeis University. He received his B.A. from Dartmouth College, his M.A. from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and his J.D. from Yale Law School.

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