The government will be tapped out on Oct 17, according to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. Unless, that is, Congress takes:
… immediate action to raise the federal debt limit, which stands at $16.7 trillion.
Mr. Lew went on, as Lori Montgomery of the Washington Post reports, to do a little sermonizing.
“The United States should never have to choose, for example, whether to pay Social Security to seniors, pay benefits to our veterans, or make payments to state and local jurisdictions and health care providers under Medicare and Medicaid. There is no way of knowing the damage any prioritization plan would have on our economy and financial markets. It would represent an irresponsible retreat from a core American value: We are a nation that honors all of its commitments.”
One's instinct is to agree with all this lofty stuff. But also to ask a question.
We know the artificial limit on the nation's debt is whatever Congress says it is. And that sentiments like Mr. Lew's shift with the political winds. Before he became president, Barrack Obama was employing the same sort of rhetorical notes to justify his opposition to raising the debt ceiling.
But if the political number is arbitrary, then what about the real number? Is there such a thing? Is it possible to know what it is? Will there be recognizable signs that we are coming up against it? When that happens can Congress do something about it?
In his weekly radio address, President Obama explained the budget he'll rollout next week, and said, "the truth is, our deficits are already shrinking."
"My budget will reduce our deficits not with aimless, reckless spending cuts that hurt students and seniors and middle-class families – but through the balanced approach that the American people prefer, and the investments that a growing economy demands," said Obama.
In a statement released at 5 a.m. today, Senator Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, blasts the budget the Senate passed very early this morning. Sessions's main concern is that the budget "has zero real deficit reduction" and "never balances."
“The content of the plan the majority has now approved demonstrates why they were unwilling to reveal it for so long: their proposal, once accurately understood, cannot be publicly defended," says Sessions.
President Obama has often talked about the need to reduce the budget deficit. Before his run for the presidency, Senator Obama was rather harsh in his criticism of George Bush's deficits. And in July 2011, during the debt ceiling crisis, the president even addressed Congressional leaders in a talk the White House titled "President Obama on Deficit Reduction: “If Not Now, When?” During the talk, he said:
"The president has always believed that deficit reduction is not a goal unto itself," said Carney. "The whole purpose of deficit reduction should be part of an overall policy objective of strengthening the economy, having it grow faster, have it create more and better jobs for the middle class. And that's the president's objective."
Carney then indicated the president's budget will not be balanced.
This week Paul Ryan’s House Budget Committee is set to release its fiscal year 2014 budget, which promises to balance Uncle Sam’s books in 10 years. Ryan’s offering will elicit lamentations from the usual quarters of the mainstream media: House Republicans have lurched sharply to the right, they have abandoned the pragmatic principles of their forebears, they are now totally unfit to govern.
When it comes to deficit reduction, President Obama and the mainstream press seem to have a fascination with the figure of $4 trillion. During last year’s first presidential debate, Obama falsely claimed, “I've put forward a specific $4 trillion deficit reduction plan,” even though he’d done nothing of the sort.
President Barack Obama used his second inaugural address Monday to offer an aggressive, unapologetic defense of activist government and to call for a new spirit of unity even as he seeks to move the country even further left.
At his press conference today, President Obama showed that he either thinks he can pull the wool over Americans’ eyes through the sheer force of his own outrageous rhetoric, or else he really believes his own rhetoric and is living in a fantasyland. The guess here is that it’s a roughly even mix of the two.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said yesterday that "deficit reduction is not a worthy goal unto itself":
"Most importantly because deficit reduction is not a worthy goal unto itself," said Carney, talking about government spending. "This is all about making our economy stronger, making it more productive and allowing it to create even more jobs. That is the most important thing when it comes to economic policy as far as the President is concerned."