Dare to dream of a world without endless debt-ceiling hikes
© Greg Nash

After legal limits on how much federal government debt could be issued returned in March, President TrumpDonald John TrumpThorny part of obstruction of justice is proving intent, that's a job for Congress Obama condemns attacks in Sri Lanka as 'an attack on humanity' Schiff rips Conway's 'display of alternative facts' on Russian election interference MORE’s advisers began calling on lawmakers to increase the federal government’s authority to borrow and spend.

In May, lawmakers approved a spending bill appropriating funding for government operations in 2017, largely ignoring Trump’s austerity budget proposals and averting a lapse in government funding. The budget fight was bypassed with little controversy, but another fiscal crisis is quickly approaching.

In November 2015, lawmakers agreed to waive the debt ceiling until March 15 of this year, effectively giving the government a no-limit credit card to spend as it pleased.

On March 16, that ceiling was reinstated, and the government’s debt was capped at $19.9 trillion, or about $60,954.31 per person.

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The specter of an April 29 shutdown was averted with the approval of a spending bill, but Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin continues to ask lawmakers  to raise the debt limit, warning of what could happen without one.

 

Contrary to such dire warnings, a world without debt-ceiling limits is not unthinkable for those truly concerned about the federal government’s consumption of taxpayer money and resources.

On the campaign trail, then-candidate Donald Trump dared to dream of such a world without debt-limit hikes, telling The Washington Post, “We’re sitting probably on a bubble and, you know, it’s a bubble, that if it breaks, is going to be very nasty.”

Later, Trump told Post reporters that he planned to pay down the national debt as president, calling America a “debtor nation.”

Such a notion is not as crazy as it may sound.

In 2016, consumers and business owners produced a total of about $18.6 trillion, or about $57,627.59 per person in economic activity.

In other words, even if every iota of every single American’s work were to be harnessed in service to paying down the national debt for a year, each and every American would still be on the hook for about $4,647.39 — in addition to that year’s indentured servitude.

Before one can get out of a hole and onto solid footing, one must consider the first rule of holes: Stop digging.

The debt limit was created by the Second Liberty Bond Act of 1917, a law partially freeing the executive branch from congressional oversight on debt policy. Between 1917 and today, the federal government’s credit limit has been extended — largely without question or care — at least 78 times.

It’s time to start caring.

Refusing to extend the government’s debt limit for once would not trigger Doomsday, but instead would force the federal government to actually think about what it’s spending instead of just continuing to light taxpayer money on fire. 

Trump and Republican voters did not ask for more debt-ceiling hikes or additional federal debt. They voted for Trump because they wanted a wild card, a larger universe of possibilities and outcomes than those presented by the stay-the-course alternative that was Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThorny part of obstruction of justice is proving intent, that's a job for Congress Nadler: I don't understand why Mueller didn't charge Donald Trump Jr., others in Trump Tower meeting Kellyanne Conway: Mueller didn't need to use the word 'exoneration' in report MORE.

It’s time for lawmakers to think big and make big changes — including a rejection of business-as-usual debt-ceiling hikes. The future of all Americans depends on it. 

Jesse Hathaway (@JesseinOH) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute, an Illinois-based free market think tank. He is the managing editor of their publication, Budget and Tax News.


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