Monday, July 25, 2011

Hitting the Ceiling

Tuesday August 2 is, as has been widely publicized, the deadline by which the U.S. Congress must raise the nation’s debt ceiling limit in order to keep the country from defaulting on its loan obligations.
At this point, it is by no means certain that the Congress will vote soon enough to increase the debt ceiling. And some people, for good reason, are hitting the ceiling about that.
Some are hitting the ceiling because of the highly irresponsible position of the Tea Party congresspersons who have made it clear they will not vote to raise the ceiling no matter what. Rep. Michele Bachmann is one of those, and she has probably ruined any chance of receiving the Republican presidential nomination because of her intransigent position.
Others are hitting the ceiling because of the conditions linked to a promise to vote for raising the debt ceiling. Those conditions are related to the “cap, cut, and balance” bill that was, foolishly, passed by the House last week.
The problem is that the House Republicans’ proposal for cutting is not only of wasteful and unneeded government programs but also a cutting of Social Security benefits and cutting Medicare and Medicaid. On The Ed Show last Thursday, Ed Shultz was hitting the ceiling because he thought the President was “caving in” to proposed cuts in “the big three.”
While “hitting the ceiling” may be too strong an expression, a number of Christians, led by Jim Wallis (editor-in-chief of Sojourners), met with the President last week. They pleaded that cuts not be made which would negatively affect the poor and needy.
Wallis and his friends are a part of a group known as the Circle of Protection, which has been signed by many denominational leaders. Daniel Vestal, Executive Coordinator, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, is one of the signers. (Many readers of this blog know, or know of, Dr. Vestal.)
I have also joined the Circle, which states, in part, “We are . . . committed to resist budget cuts that undermine the lives, dignity, and rights of poor and vulnerable people.”
Some Democrats have even been sending Republican congresspersons appeals from President Reagan. During Reagan’s two terms, he presided over eighteen increases in the debt ceiling. He even publicly scolded Congress for playing hardball politics with the debt limit and bringing the nation “to the edge of default before facing its responsibility.”
It was in 1983 that Reagan “hit the ceiling,” declaring that "The full consequences of a default--or even the serious prospect of default--by the United States are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate." 
But now, just eight days before the deadline, some congresspersons, like Rep. Bachmann, are saying they will not vote for raising the debt ceiling no matter what. Many others are seeking to “blackmail” the President by saying they will vote for it only if their conditions are met.
Some are so irresponsible as to even say that defaulting is no big deal and might even help the country! And Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) has even suggested that the deadline was set for August 2 just so the matter would be settled in time for the President to celebrate his birthday with an extravagant fund-raising bash on August 3.
Maybe if we are not hitting the ceiling because of the government’s failure to raise the national debt ceiling we ought to be!


  1. Terrific column, Leroy. And very important. Thanks.

  2. My esteemed Thinking Friend who regularly comments by e-mail wrote a few minutes ago,

    "To say the least, it's unnerving. I can't comprehend the thinking of people who take absolutist positions on a matter of such worldwide consequence. I'm afraid the last election created a political burgoo from which we will suffer dreadful consequences."

  3. I, too, am mortified at the behavior of our congressional representatives on this matter. But, as one of my fellow BIble Study members reminded me yesterday, the compromise is not just about debt, but about incommensurable visions of the direction of a nation. A timely reminder of another incommensurable vision of the nation's future was offered in yesteday's KC Star, in its treatment of the vicious slaughter of civilians by ideologues from both sides of the American Civil war. The real question is how does a nation proceed when it truly reaches competing positions on which there can be no compromise.

  4. In the movie The Matrix, Agent Smith (a robot), complains that humans breed like a virus, which is to say, with no self-control mechanisms at all. I fear he is too generous. We breed more like a fungus. Now a fungus usually goes about its business, quietly spreading through the ground. At a critical point, when it encounters a shortage of some sort, the fungus typically radically alters its behavior, and creates a fruiting body, which spreads its spores to the wind. Sometimes we come along at the right time and find a delicious mushroom.

    Our fruiting bodies tend to leave behind names like Huns, Mongols, Vikings, Assyrians, Babylonians, Germans, French, Russians, and, yes, Americans. In times of stress our societies tend to become violent and demonic. We lash out irrationally and dangerously. LIke Alexander the Great, leading his army to the end of the known world, we send our spores to the wind.

    The atomic bombs that ended World War II greatly altered this process, but did not end it. World population is expected to cross the next great milestone this fall, passing seven billion persons. Misery is on the rise around the world. Our institutions are shaking. Madmen are seen everywhere. A Christian kills dozens in Norway, trying to start a war against Islam. Others, mostly Christian, stand dangerously close to blowing up the financial foundations of our economy, trying to start a war against Big Government. Meanwhile, starving children in Somalia are on the news every day, record heat waves meet waves of global warming denial, and everyone lives under a dark cloud of fear.

    Jesus came preaching the Sermon on the Mount, and the world thanked Him for the Beatitudes with crucifixion. We have a choice, we can be a virus, a fungus, or a child of God. Are we ready to let the light shine in the darkness?

  5. This is not a part of my sojourn, but the CHURCH has been given mandates to care for the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the foreigner in our land. Jesus Christ personally ministered to each of these groups.

    As far as governments go (a different realm and kingdom from Christ's) basic arithmetic leads to its own conclusions. A famous, former Democratic governor wrote a noteworthy commentary this month on our national spending. It is three paragraphs long, so excuse the length.

    "Balancing the budget in public policy is like sleeping with a blanket that is too short. Your shoulders get cold so you pull up the blanket... To govern is to choose, but Americans don't yet realize that they must choose.

    "But choose we must. The U.S. government recently has been borrowing 40 Cents out of every dollar it spends and faces massive and unsustainable deficits. Health care is the largest item in the federal budget; Medicare and Medicaid now exceed the cost of Social Security. We spend almost three times as much of our GDP on health care as we do on education, and more than three times the amount that we spend on defense. Yet no one wants to talk about limits or rationing health care.

    "The unmentionable has become the inevitable. There is no way we can tax or grow our way out of an expense that grows at more than twice the rate of inflation. We can't build a health care system a patient at a time; expect any program to pay for anything modern medicine can provide or escape weighing costs and benefits and setting limits on marginal care." Richard Lamm (D) Denver

  6. Many years ago I had the privilege of hearing Richard Lamm (b. 1935, Dem. Gov. of CO 1975-87)speak (at a World Future Society meeting). I was impressed with him then. (But I have had trouble with some things he has said more recently.)

    In 1996 he ran for the Reform Party nomination for President; he was soundly defeated by Ross Perot.

    Lamm's article, cited by Sojourner 1 above, is well worth reading and thinking about. The link is:

  7. In response to MPH's comments above:

    I think the comments Sunday were accurate for the most point. But, still, surely for thinking people there ought to be some compromise possible to keep the country from defaulting on its loans. Part of the problem seems to be that some on the Tea Party side seem to think that raising the debt limit is authorizing more spending, rather than just making it possible to pay back debts we already have.

  8. I believe I have heard that there is still income sufficient to pay interest on our debt obligations, Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and military personnel. However it is at the discretion of the President to determine the mix - so there does not have to be a default before the ceiling is raised - just huge cut backs.

    The Democrats (including Sen. Obama attempted to prevent raising the ceiling under President Bush as well, which was not a bad idea and should have been more fully explored at that time to prevent funding 2 wars with international debt.

    The credit rating agencies have already indicated that they will cut our national rating if massive cuts are not made in our budget. There are alternatives, but none are pretty and all will hurt since taxing the rich will only go part way.

    The president's own bi-partisan commission recommended $3 in cuts for every $1 in new taxes. He could not live with that, and shelved their recommendations.

    I am no fan of either party.

  9. NPR had a very insightful and dire look at our national debt situation this past Sunday. Balanced and bi-partisan in approach, the long run sounds very gloomy related to projected entitlement obligations of $200 Trillion over the next 25 years (with the use of terms like Ponzie Schemes and exponential Enron - a third party appraisal by an economics professor at Boston University).
    One thought was that raising taxes on everyone 60% and cutting all national spending by 60% would be in order right away. I was shocked to hear this on NPR, but the players were legit, including John Kerry. But all agreed that it would be political suicide for either party to endorse what needs to happen, and if it was done in a bi-partisan manner, both parties would be thrown out. (This is very similar to what President Clinton said about two months ago - recorded, but officially off the record - in a conversation with Paul Ryan).

    My details may be a little off, but it would be worth listening to the archived version.