What’s your debt ceiling got to do with me?

I just spent the last hour trying to piece together what I understand of the debate around the debt ceiling, as both an exaggerated crisis and the potential for a really big problem, to explain what it is and why we should care but then I got confused (and I even took economics as an undergrad) and the Feministing email thread ended up with a whole lotta “fuck republicans” and “this is all because the President is black.” I know, you would rather read that email thread, but here are a few links to help flesh out a debate that threatens a lot of what we know to be foundational to our country.

The imitable Melissa Harris-Perry guest hosted the Rachel Maddow show this past week and gave the best and easiest to understand explanation of the debt ceiling debate and how it impacts the average American.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

It is important to note that the debt ceiling has never been this much of a political issue before and even when there was debate around it they always passed it. The political grandstanding is infuriating, as are the subtle racial undertones that speak to widely held public anxieties about who benefits from the spending that needs to get cut (i.e. Medicaid cuts which are a centerpiece of the Boehner proposal being voted on today).

Ezra Klein has an easy to understand breakdown of the everything we need to know about this issue, as does Mother Jones. And Adam Serwer gives us data to explain away the Republican narrative that Obama is trying to tank the economy as payback to racism and oppression. If only!

As Vanessa said to me on Monday, “it is just sad, scary and appalling that people are deliberating over our financial fates in such an irresponsible and childish way.” I’m going to have to agree with her. I remember running cases about impending economic collapse on when I was on the debate team in high school, an exaggerated space where political calamity was part of the theater of making your point and winning arguments. It just can’t be good when those political fictions threaten to become realities.

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17 Comments

  1. Posted July 28, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    In a few words? America is living beyond its means and is addicted to borrowing in order to maintain its standard of living.

    • Posted July 29, 2011 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      Perhaps but when more then 50% of your spending is related to the military then you know spending priorities are messed up bigtime.

      • Posted July 29, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Permalink
        • Posted August 1, 2011 at 2:23 am | Permalink

          If you read a little bit closer to the Wiki article to which you linked, you’ll see that (a) 20% is never mentioned, (b) the 19% [of expenditures] and 28% [of tax revenues] numbers are of the DOD budget, not total military spending, which is cited as between 28-38% [of expenditures] or 42-57% [of revenues].

          That said, even those numbers include Social Security in their calculations, which is misleading, as pointed out in this document produced by the War Resisters League, which sites military expenditures at 48% of total federal outlays (sorry, their typography is atrocious, I KNOW).

          There are plenty of other folks calculating what this amounts to, as our government does take pains to obfuscate what kinds of decisions are made in Congress and by the President about how to spend our money.

          • Posted August 1, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

            Oops. Yes. Sorry.

            I saw the 20% in the diagram. To which must be added 50% of Discretionary, right? 50% of 19%.

            Total: 29.5%

            But what is a missing 330 billion dollars, eh?

  2. Posted July 28, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    In a few more words? America is struggling with crushing unemployment and the Bush tax cuts, both of which have sent tax revenues plummeting. Fortunately, our credit is the best in the world, so we can borrow at essentially zero interest and keep what’s left of our social safety net going. Unfortunately, some people have decided that right now, when Americans need that safety net more than they have in decades, is the perfect time to declare an end to borrowing and tank our credit rating.

    • Posted July 28, 2011 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

      “some people have decided that right now, when Americans need that safety net more than they have in decades”… you do realise Americans weren’t the only people in the world hit by the recession?

      • Posted July 29, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

        Of course I do, but people in other countries don’t generally benefit from the American safety net. If U.S. government spending is suddenly slashed to the bone by failure to raise the debt ceiling, most of the pain will be felt in the United States–though there will certainly be a nasty economic ripple effect, and actual default would cause a worldwide crisis as bad as or worse than what happened in 2008.

  3. Posted July 29, 2011 at 1:26 am | Permalink

    America is living beyond its means. Has been since the Revolutionary War. It is an issue of vital importance, but five days before default is not the time to be fighting over it, with such rhetoric. Congress has had years between elections to balance the budget and manage debt. Playing chicken right now is just pure politics.

    • Posted July 29, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

      The idea that America has been living beyond its means since 1776 is… dubious, to say the least. If that were the case, we should have run out of means a long time ago.

      Debt for a sovereign nation is totally different from debt for you and me. A nation can run small deficits forever and it’s fine, as long as they don’t exceed its rate of economic growth. In some ways it’s even beneficial. And when there’s a lot of slack in the economy (read: unemployment), deficit spending in the right areas can take up that slack and put people back to work.

      It’s when you have full employment and you’re still running a big deficit that you need to worry. That leads to accelerating inflation, which is bad and hard to get rid of (this is what happened in the ’70s). However, this is not a situation we are in right now.

  4. Posted July 29, 2011 at 4:38 am | Permalink

    “it is just sad, scary and appalling that people are deliberating over our financial fates in such an irresponsible and childish way.”

    This is men in power for you – it is scary, very scary. They would rather bankrupt the country than back down. This is how world wars start – men sabre rattling to the death. This is why we need more women in power – to provide some kind of alternative view – like, why don’t we NOT bankrupt the country. It just shows that they are in it for the power, not for the country.

    • Posted July 29, 2011 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      Stereotype much?

      You do realize there are women in both the Democratic and Republican ranks who are also involved in this issue. There’s no proof that having more of them would prevent this. Women can be just as stubborn as men.

    • Posted July 29, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

      Gender essentialism FTL

      • Posted July 29, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

        Dave,

        Err… would you care to elaborate?

        • Posted July 30, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

          The phrase was a response to blatant gender essentialism by Jane.

          The notion that we need more women in politics because they will be more nurturing or risk-averse is applying essential characteristics to being a woman, which is in contrast to the basic principles of avoiding stereotyping of gender.

          Basically, Jane says that this crisis is the result of our politicians being men, which ignores intersectionality completely. The inadequate amount of urgency and bickering could just as easily be ascribed to class, race, or a host of other things.

          • Posted August 1, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

            Oh, I agree. I just don’t know the acronyms, that’s all!

    • Posted July 29, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

      “This is why we need more women in power…”

      Two words: President Bachmann.

      We do need more women in power, but this is not why.

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