America will go bankrupt if Washington doesn't wake up – The Hill (blog)

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When I first read about a certain non-word that the president tweeted out in the dead of night, I spouted some choice words myself — mostly of the four-letter variety.

It is incredibly depressing that media outlets now place so much import on midnight Twitter shenanigans at the expense of the real issues, some of which are quite literally sending America to the brink of bankruptcy.


I’m not talking about individual citizens or businesses filing for Chapter 11, either. I’m talking about a financial failure that ruins our very government’s standing with investors and lenders around the world. Let me lay it out for you.


The debt ceiling has become confused with debt reduction. Many people would concede that America’s debt is some kind of nebulous problem to be dealt with in the long-term. But increasingly, we are seeing regular crises like the April threat of a government shutdown because of short-term problems with the “debt ceiling” — that is, America simply making good on its existing obligations.

As a result hard spending decisions don’t happen. Since Congress loves to manufacture a regular crisis through the debt ceiling, legislators never have to get serious about entitlement reform or face the hard reality that Social Security will be insolvent in just 17 years. Remember, the debt ceiling is about existing obligations and money that has already been borrowed and spent. It does nothing to change the structural problems with entitlements, which make up roughly two-thirds of the budget, or alter the path of U.S. budget deficits or debt loads going forward.

Congress is intent on making this situation worse. There’s no way to spin this. Republicans in Congress are almost wholly to blame for this. They began picking fights with Obama despite a long history of bipartisan voting to raise the debt ceiling before 2008 — including seven unremarkable votes under George W. Bush to raise the debt ceiling, without a fuss. Those on the far right see the debt ceiling as an opportunity to force spending cuts, but it only makes the budgeting process more painful and creates serious uncertainty among those lending the U.S. money through the bond market.

But our debt situation is already creating consequences. This brinksmanship had serious results in 2011, when the U.S. saw its sovereign debt rating downgraded for the first time ever. Some in the GOP realized they were playing with fire, such as current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellAmerica will go bankrupt if Washington doesn’t wake up Senate returns more pessimistic than ever on healthcare GOP senator: Tax reform more likely to come before ObamaCare repeal MORE (R-Ky.) who proposed to do away with this regular ritual of pain in July 2011. But others were emboldened, and caused a 15-day government shutdown in 2013 and other headaches in the intervening years. This is not good governance, nor is it not good for the U.S. government’s standing in global capital markets.

Tax cuts will make it much worse. Some seem to think that the grandstanding about the debt ceiling and government shutdowns are a battle of principles, a fight to reduce spending wherever you can and whatever the cost in the service of long-term debt reduction. But that argument goes out the window when the “fiscal conservatives” fighting so hard against spending and the debt ceiling turn around and push for deep tax cuts. For instance, the Tax Foundation estimates that the Trump tax plan to reduce individual rates to three brackets and corporate rates to 15 percent would cost the U.S. Treasury $4 trillion to $6 trillion over 10 years. That’s trillion with a “t,” people.

Finally, promises of cuts have choked tax revenue. Even if tax cuts aren’t on the books yet, all the talk about lower rates has created a cash crunch in the here and now. A recent Bloomberg report estimated that the wealthy have deferred as much as 20 percent of their taxable income from 2016 — causing a budget crunch that will hasten the debt ceiling and exacerbate spending and debt issues this year. Do you think Congress, which has been woefully unprepared to deal effectively with the debt ceiling in the past, will deal well under pressure in 2017?

This, my friends, is how America goes bankrupt.

It’s preventable, yes, but President Trump and small-minded Tea Party members won’t stop it. After all, Trump has said that the government “needs a good shutdown.” As the king of debt (and bankruptcy), he clearly doesn’t care who’s left holding the bag as long as he gets his. And trust me, Trump will get his. He can afford to fritter away his nights on Twitter. But the American people better wake up and focus on the issues that matter.

Jeff Reeves is a stock analyst and executive editor of His commentary has also appeared on CNBC, Fox Business, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal network.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.