While everyone focused on avoiding the fiscal cliff, we cracked our head on the debt ceiling. On Monday, the U.S. government reached the statutory limit on how much money it can borrow. Get ready for the next big budgetary fight—and this time expect a much bigger hit to your pocketbook.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told Congress on Monday that emergency measures were now in effect to prevent Washington from defaulting on its debt. America has begun a “debt issuance suspension period” that would last through February 28, he said. We have less than 60 days to raise the debt ceiling, which is currently set at $16.394 trillion. If we don’t, our creditors will soon stop being paid. A debt default could have drastic implications on how much America pays to borrow money.
Last year, due to concerns over the debt ceiling, a major credit rating agency downgraded U.S. debt. It was a first in U.S. history. It won’t be the last.
Now, after passing an unpopular last-minute “fiscal cliff,” Washington is set for the next set of crisis negotiations. The difference this time is that Republicans seem more determined to tackle government spending—and that means potential reforms to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Any reforms will almost certainly mean cuts to services and payouts. Democrats are sure to oppose. Democrats won the fiscal cliff battle by winning increased government spending and taxation. Who will win the next one?
If you thought the last battle over the debt ceiling was bad, wait till you see what this year’s could bring. And the debt ceiling crisis is only the beginning.
There is also the looming sequester issue—a legacy of 2011’s debt ceiling battle. Sequester involves $110 billion worth of automatic, across the board spending cuts to every single government department. The cuts were scheduled for January 1, but due to an inability to agree on how to avoid the cuts, Congress postponed the date two months.
Indebted America has few choices to deal with its budget issues. It can cut spending—and hurt the economy. It can raise taxes—and hurt the economy. It can increase borrowing—and hurt the economy. It can print money—and hurt the economy. Alternatively, it can do some combination of the four—and hurt the economy. Some options hurt more than others. Some hurt more immediately. Others hurt much later.
But here is the point: There is no way to avoid the consequences of our debt. Political attempts to avoid paying the price will make matters worse, not better. There will be no end to the crisis. It will be one crisis after the other until you think they have gone on forever. This is America’s future. This is reality. You can choose to prepare for it, or suffer the worst of it.