Somehow, the Glorious Fourth just doesn’t have the patriotic effect on statesmen that it used to. Nowhere is that more in evidence than in the needless and potentially destructive debate about raising the U.S. government’s debt ceiling.
For some weeks, policymakers have been saying Congress ought to get to a vote on raising the nation’s debt ceiling by July Fourth. Now that informal deadline is unlikely to be met.
This is something that just about every member of Congress knows has to be done.
The economic case for avoiding entwining the debt ceiling with the bitter debates over the budget deficit — another issue entirely — is profound and widely recognized. The International Monetary Fund, in its annual report on the U.S. economy, said Congress should move “expeditiously” to raise the debt ceiling before the last minute.
The fund’s report said politicizing the debate about the debt ceiling could prompt a spike in interest rates that might harm the American economy as well as world financial markets.
These are warnings that GOP leaders appear to be immune to.
“Dealing with this debt problem and this deficit problem is far more important than meeting some artificial date created by the Treasury secretary,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told Fox News.
The debt ceiling allows the Treasury to borrow to meet payments for everything from the bonds held by the public to Social Security recipients and other obligations of the government. So long as this country runs budget deficits — something we should not do — there is a need to raise the debt limit periodically.
Like Boehner, we long for the days when the debt ceiling does not have to be raised, but the debt ceiling is about the United States government honoring its obligations and avoiding a default on at least some of them.
Would the statesmen of 1776 see today’s debate in a positive light? We doubt it.
Not because they didn’t fight serious battles among themselves over fiscal policy, but because in those innocent times the sanctity of government obligations was felt to be, well, sacred.
There comes a time when sneers about “some artificial date” should be avoided, and a concern about the integrity of America’s financial system should come first.
As the IMF said, just do it on the debt ceiling. Then we can continue with what is, and should be, a robust national debate about how much we’re spending.