First Principles And The Debt Ceiling

‘Puter’s been reading much about the debt ceiling debate over the past weeks. ‘Puter has come to the following conclusions.

1. The debt ceiling will be increased. It will be increased because it must be increased. And it must be increased because no one has presented a plausible plan for how to not increase it (eventually) without tanking the world’s economy.

2. Closing tax loopholes is not a tax increase per se; however, the discussion should be taken up in comprehensive tax reform, not as a one-off in an unrelated debt ceiling increase bill. Republicans should take the issue off the table by committing to closing corporate tax loopholes in exchange for a comprehensive tax reform bill to be negotiated post debt ceiling increase. Agree there is a problem, and agree to fix it. Refuse to tether the debt ceiling increase to it, while at the same time tethering the debt ceiling increase to spending cuts. Hypocritical, yes. But also politically feasible.

3. Neither Republicans nor Democrats are serious about reining in spending, regardless of the numbers thrown around. The notion that we can’t survive on $2.17 trillion in revenues, and need to borrow an additional $1.65 trillion so we can spend $3.82 trillion this year is unbelievable. Other than give aways to favored constituencies, there is no reason we should be running a deficit at all. If you want to run two wars at the same time, cut something else. If you want gold-plated health care for all, cut something else. Spending has consequences, and the people who benefit from the spending should feel the consequences, not unborn Americans saddled with paying off our credit card bills.

4. Americans are greedy, self-entitled, deluded assholes. We cannot have everything we want, forever, without paying for it now. Borrowing doesn’t count. Social security is broke, and ‘Puter is going to punch the next lying sack of dung politician who refers grandly to the fistful of worthless IOUs held by social security as an iteration of a trust fund. Medicare is going broke, or so say the actuaries. We cannot keep providing the level of care for everyone without bankrupting the state. Medicaid may be the worst program ever devised to deliver medical care, and it has no statistically significant improvement in health outcomes. We all know this, yet no one wants to give up anything. We are owed! We paid for it! Well, tough toenails. If we’re talking fair share, the rich and the middle class are going to get means tested benefits. The middle class and the poor are actually going to start paying taxes. And everyone is going to make do with fewer governmental handouts.

Based on these conclusions, ‘Puter came to a further conclusion. Republicans have done a singularly shitty job of identifying the first principle in play here. That principle is: live within your means.

It’s not that difficult a concept. Millions of Americans do it every month. Mom got laid off, so no vacation this year, we’re eating store brands, and your cell phones and our cable just went bye-bye. Yet our government pretends as if it’s some sort of black magic. “We can’t possibly give up our honey bee subsidy, or the mortgage interest deduction, or free government cheese! The people want it!” When you’re out of money, you have to make hard choices. Stuff that may be important may have to get cut in order to permit more important stuff to survive.

‘Puter’s heard pundits from both sides simply assume as a given that spending must increase year after year. That is a false premise. Spending need not increase every year. It does because of inertia. No one ever looks back at agencies and programs set up 100 years ago to see if their original raison d’etre still exists. How about the Federal Maritime Agency? Or, more recently, the TSA?

Sure, it’s way easier to borrow our way out of the hole we’re in. But that doesn’t solve the problem. It simply extends the problem, and for our avoidance, we get the privilege of paying interest.

Government has two realistic choices: (1) don’t raise tax rates and spend only the revenue you project you will take in or (2) spend as much as you want and raise tax rates as high as need be to pay for it. Of course, government being government, they have come up with unrealistic option (3): spend as much as you want, in excess of what you take in, don’t raise tax rates, borrow the difference, passing the buck to future generations.

There is no magic money machine housed in a basement in Washington. When we say “the government should pay for”, we really mean “I want to force my neighbors to pay for.” The money comes out of Americans’ pockets, no matter how much Democrats wish to pretend otherwise.

For too long we have tolerated, and in many instances even supported, Washington living beyond its means. We wanted benefits now, but we didn’t want to pay for them now. The day of reckoning is coming, if it’s not already here. We must insist Washington live within its means, and the debt ceiling vote is the first real test of politicians’ sincerity on the issue.

About 'Puter

Always right, unless he isn’t, the infallible Ghettoputer F. X. Gormogons claims to be an in-law of the Volgi, although no one really believes this. ’Puter carefully follows economic and financial trends, legal affairs, and serves as the Gormogons’ financial and legal advisor. He successfully defended us against a lawsuit from a liquor distributor worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid deliveries of bootleg shandies. The Geep has an IQ so high it is untestable and attempts to measure it have resulted in dangerously unstable results as well as injuries to researchers. Coincidentally, he publishes intelligence tests as a side gig. His sarcasm is so highly developed it borders on the psychic, and he is often able to insult a person even before meeting them. ’Puter enjoys hunting small game with 000 slugs and punt guns, correcting homilies in real time at Mass, and undermining unions. ’Puter likes to wear a hockey mask and carry an axe into public campgrounds, where he bursts into people’s tents and screams. As you might expect, he has been shot several times but remains completely undeterred. He assures us that his obsessive fawning over news stories involving women teachers sleeping with young students is not Freudian in any way, although he admits something similar once happened to him. Uniquely, ’Puter is unable to speak, read, or write Russian, but he is able to sing it fluently. Geep joined the order in the mid-1980s. He arrived at the Castle door with dozens of steamer trunks and an inarticulate hissing creature of astonishingly low intelligence he calls “Sleestak.” Ghettoputer appears to make his wishes known to Sleestak, although no one is sure whether this is the result of complex sign language, expert body posture reading, or simply beating Sleestak with a rubber mallet. 'Puter suggests the Czar suck it.