HAROON ATCHA // POLITICAL COLUMNIST
In times like these, it’s not hard to see why people hold such cynical views of our government. When you take into account gridlock in congress and the obscene amounts of money spent on campaigns, it seems like a small miracle when people take part in the process at all. Our confidence in elected officials has been shaken and we don’t have to look very far to see why, as is evident by the government shutdown. Staying involved in politics is difficult when the debt ceiling fight rolls around and I, like most other people am tired of caring. In my opinion, we need to stop focusing on petty matters such as these and start picking our fights better.
One of the reasons the debt ceiling fight bothers me so much is that it’s a silly argument to have. You see, raising the debt ceiling doesn’t pave the way for our government to add more things to the budget. In fact, it simply allows us to pay the bills that our government has already incurred. To put it simply, our government spends more money every year than it takes in as taxes. We make up that difference by taking on debt, often in the form of bonds. Raising the debt ceiling allows our government to borrow the money it needs to fund projects it’s already committed to. When we fight about the debt ceiling, we aren’t fighting about what we want to buy, we’re fighting about whether or not we’re going to pay for the things we already have.
The main reason this all seems so pointless to me is because the answer is very simple: yes, we are going to pay our bills. Using the debt ceiling as an opportunity to further specific political agendas is irresponsible. If the United States was to default on its obligations, the global economy would suffer immensely. Toying with that mechanism is exceptionally dangerous but we see our congressmen treat the topic with callous disregard. The debt ceiling fight tends to bring out the worst in our politicians. They become obstinate children that refuse to work together towards a common goal. Without exaggeration, the well being of the global economy hangs in the balance every time we have this fight but our congressmen just don’t seem to understand that.
Another aspect of this situation that irks me is that things weren’t always this way. Listening to the news you might get the impression that the debt ceiling has hardly ever been raised over the course of history. The truth is quite the opposite however. According to the GAO, since March of 1962, the debt ceiling has been raised 74 times and 14 of those times have occurred since 2001. Up until recently, it was implied that lawmakers would agree to pay for the things they had voted to buy. Using the
debt ceiling as a fight is a new tactic whose only accomplishment is to further the culture of antagonism found in Washington.
With all of that in mind, I do think that there is a time and place for argument and discussion regarding the budget. That time isn’t now though. Deciding what we spend our money on is an important part of running a responsible democracy and we should have an earnest role in that conversation. I don’t mind our politicians disagreeing over specific budget items so long as they work together to reach
a consensus. In short, I want our politicians to argue about what they’re going to have for dinner before they place their orders, not after the bill comes.
If I sound angry I want to apologize because I’m really not mad about this. Am I disappointed though? Absolutely. Watching my congressmen fight this petty argument is disheartening when there are a number of other problems they could be tackling. Firearms, immigration and international affairs are all issues that take a backseat during the debt ceiling fight and that’s too bad. These are pressing matters that affect us all. They dwarf the debt ceiling fight in terms of relevance and impor- tance. We need to move on and stop making everything a fight because in the end, politics is the art of the possible.