Jim Crawford: Politicians playing chicken with nation’s debt ceiling

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 12, 2023

Our noble Republican friends in the House of Representatives want to reduce the federal debt and have decided to use the debt ceiling vote to accomplish this goal. 

Who could disagree with this admirable goal, with the national debt at $31 trillion and rising? 

Who indeed. Any thinking person with knowledge of the history of the debt ceiling could and should resist this Republican threat to the nation.

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Here are the facts:

The debt ceiling vote came about in 1917 when, in World War I, the nation could not estimate the cost of the war. While the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states, “The validity of the public debt of the United States…shall not be questioned,” the war made Congress aware of its fiscal spending by authorizing it. 

The second world war again allowed the government to spend as needed, but report the spending by charging dollars borrowed to wage war. 

Since the end of World War II, the debt ceiling has faced votes to increase it over 100 times. Most of those votes have passed, but a few exceptions stand out.

In 1979, Republicans balked when a Democratic president, Jimmy Carter, requested a debt ceiling increase. 

In 1995 with a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, in office, Republicans again balked twice, in 1995 and 1996. 

In 2011, with Democratic President Barack Obama in office, Republicans again refused to raise the debt ceiling without policy concessions.

Obama made concessions then to resolve the standoff and avoid an economic crisis. 

In 2013, once again, Republicans refused to approve the debt ceiling increase, but Obama stood firm and achieved a “clean” debt ceiling increase, but only after a 13-day shutdown. 

If you see a trend here, Republicans attempting to use the necessary approval of the money that was authorized and spent by Congress to force a Democratic president to concede policies, you would be correct. 

But are Republicans right? Is Democratic spending so outrageous that conscientious Republicans had to resort to damaging the full faith and credit of the United States to save the nation?

The facts suggest otherwise. Since World War II, Republican administrations have added 60 percent of all increases in the national debt. Democrats added 40 percent to the debt. 

The Trump presidency alone added $7.8 trillion to a national debt of $20 trillion. And during his presidency, the debt ceiling increased three times without Republican objections. Further, when voting on the debt ceiling, Republicans vote 70 percent in favor when the president is Republican, and 20 percent when the president is Democratic.

The ongoing Republican strategy is to spend freely when a Republican president is in office and demand cuts when a Democrat takes the presidency.

And the weapon of choice is the debt ceiling. The outcomes are devastating if the nation defaults or even comes near default. 

The dollar, a worldwide reserve currency, will be devalued, making everything more expensive to consumers. Inflation will once again increase. A recession will likely follow. 

The stock markets will falter, and middle-class savings will disappear. Further, the spending cuts Republicans demand will cut funding to science and research, education and preschool, healthcare, the environment, and jobs overall. Cuts could take place to Social Security and Medicare.

Will Republicans care? Not in the least if they can somehow blame President Biden and help a Republican win the 2024 Presidential election. And, given the MAGA caucus seems in control of the House, they have few goals more important than burning the economy down to display their new-found power.

Republicans will risk it all and are just irresponsible enough to lead the nation into default.

Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.