The Passion of the Deficit

by Gary Phillips

I had no idea until a couple of weeks ago what the debt ceiling in America is or why it’s so damn important. What I do get, having scheduled my second colonoscopy—my first was five years ago when I turned 50—is that this is all tied into possible reductions in Social Security and me having to work till I drop before I get to collect from the pool I’ve paid into. Over this past week, there’s been a lot of fulminations among the punditacracy about Standard & Poor’s prognosticating the government’s creditworthiness as negative. The projection caused downward fluctuations in the stock market, and the White House responded with pronouncements the S&P didn’t know what the hell it was talking about.

This at a time when the next game of who’s gonna blink first is already underway in Congress over raising the debt ceiling limit. The limit refers to how much money our government can owe. Currently we’re in hock to the tune of about $14.2 trillion, with the current debt ceiling set nearly at $14.3. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said we need to raise the ceiling by May 16 or failure to do so would result in that damn negativity S&P was predicting. Warnings are if the ceilings isn’t raised, it will send shock waves through the market resulting in increased interest rates, foreign market uneasiness, and increasing the cost of borrowing money be it the federal government, cities, or you and me.

A recent Freedom Works poll, a teabagger outfit, stated 69% of all voters oppose raising the debt ceiling. I don’t know how they compiled their sample, but I’d wager you didn’t get a call from their pollster. Yet resistance to raising the debt ceiling is also reflected in a new CBS News/New York Times poll backing up the rightists’ numbers with the conclusion that two to one, people were opposed to raising the debt ceiling limit. According to this poll, just 27 % of Americans support raising the debt limit, while 63 % oppose raising it. Eighty-three percent of Republicans oppose raising the limit, along with 64 % of independents and 48 % of Democrats. Support for raising the debt limit is just 36 % among Democrats, and only 14 % among Republicans. Ed Morrissey on Hot Air pointed out the CBS News/NYT poll ended up with a raw sample that was almost half Republican, with 543 registered GOP voters in a sample of 1,116, while only 277 Democrats took part in the survey—though the pollster weighted their results with that in mind.


The debt ceiling has been previously raised 10 times since 2001, not without rancor, but it’s been done when the situation demanded. In a 4/22 piece by Jon Ward on the HuffPo, he writes some conservative strategists are hedging the teabaggers shouldn’t be controlling this debate about ceiling and deficits, their rhetoric won’t be good for business. The pushback from the other side is the government has to be forced to balance its budget (which to the teabaggers and the other GOPers—or are these becoming two separate and distinct entities?—means more cuts in the social safety net and monkeying with Social Security and Medicare), that not raising the limit wouldn’t necessarily mean default. They remind detractors the Treasury Department can prioritize who among our creditors—China being number one—gets paid to keep the trains running as it were.

That seems to me to be quite a gamble. But what’s to be done? Progressives like economist Paul Krugman have pointed out the tax rate has dropped over the last 30 years and, as President Obama has suggested in terms of not renewing the Bush era tax cuts this time around, the taxes for the top tier of dollar earners could be increased and revenues gained. That wild and crazy poster boy for the Objectivists, Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, has cowboyed up and has stated his fellow conservatives have to admit the military budget is out of control and its spending and projects have to be on the chopping block too.

Indeed that bastion of Marxist-Leninist tracts, Time magazine, had an article in it this week by Mark Thompson entitled “How to Save a Trillion Dollars,” arguing for such cuts. Shades of the mirage that was the hoped-for Peace Dividend when the Soviet Union collapsed, Thompson advocated for not building new massive aircraft carriers, given missiles coming online, developed by our creditor China, that can sink them. The Gerald R. Ford is being built now and another carrier is also scheduled to be ready in 2020, at the price of a tidy $15 billion per. Thompson goes on with other potential cost cutting ranging from reducing the some 500 military bases we maintain here and around the globe to slashing spending on attack submarines and fancy new jets when the ones we have—F-15s, F-16s and F-18s—are more than equal of anyone else’s air capabilities.

As of now there’s not much traction for those kind of deep cuts in the defense budget from Paul’s fellow tea dippers, who seem, considering other polls, to want to keep their Social Security, yet display a disconnect when it comes time to how do you pay for our old age if taxes in some quarters aren’t raised, as well as lack ideas on increasing revenues. There’s no way we can merely cut our way out of this.

The People’s Budget put forward by the Congressional Progressive Caucus has worth as it gets to what the other side is unwilling to acknowledge currently—that it will take shared sacrifice to get our deficit under control. Among the changes the People’s Budget calls for are health care reform by way of enacting a public option and defense cuts, but also proposes, and outlines how (including an increase in the fuel tax) a $1.45 trillion job creation and reinvestment in our infrastructure—with a particular emphasis on public transportation.

A cool aspect of the People’s Budget, with a nod to 21st century nomenclature, is their proposal for an Infrastructure Bank, the IBank. The executive summary outlines it thusly:

The Infrastructure Bank will provide loans and grants to support individual projects and broader activities of significance to our nation’s economic competitiveness. For example, the IBank could support improvements in road and rail access to a West Coast port that benefits farmers in the Midwest, or a national effort to guarantee private loans made to help airlines purchase equipment in support of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen).

Ayn Rand

Surely those Ayn Rand loving deficit hawks would dig the IBank’s rail idea. After all, their precious Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (she was played by the groovy and better-looking Helen Mirren in a Showtime cable movie in 1999, The Passion of Ayn Rand) has finally been made into a film, though even the conservative Arizona Republic panned it. The film’s plot involves an America held hostage to foreign oil and mealy-mouthed, liberal, PC politicians. The hard-driving Dagny Taggert, a tough broad who runs the family railroad, and her paramour steel baron Hank Rearden, who’s developed a super alloy, hunt down the reclusive gazillionaire John Galt. He’s been joined by the best and brightest, who are on strike against the failing U.S.A, Along the way they find a magic engine that converts air to electricity, buck the Bolshevik-leaning unions, get the trains running on time, and remake a society for enlightened self-interest citizenry.

Until that heady dawn breaks, how about we cut a couple of aircraft carriers and a few high tech jets, and pump that $100 billion or thereabouts into Social Security and Medicare. So 20 years from now, if I’m still around, while some of you might be looking for John Galt, I can still get my colonoscopy done.

I thank you in advance.

Gary Phillips' latest is Treacherous: Grifters, Ruffians and Killers, a collection of his short stories.


loved this!  (and that picture of ayn rand . . .)

2011-04-29 by donna

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