You will hear a lot of conversation about the consequences from others; today, however, you are going to get the chance to be both the President and the Secretary of the Treasury, and you will get to decide for yourself exactly what bills the Federal Government should and should not pay as the cash runs out if a deal is not made by the time borrowing authority runs out.
At that point you’ll be able to see what’s coming for yourself – and once you do, you won’t need me to tell you what ugly is going to look like.
“…no state has the right to secede unless it wishes to…[and] it is the President’s duty to enforce the laws, unless somebody opposes him…”
--William H. Seward, deprecating President James Buchanan’s efforts to preserve the Union, as quoted in the book “Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era”
So before I go sending you off to take the reins of power, let’s fill you in on a few things that you’ll need to know.
If no one has explained it to you yet, the Great Big Fuss that is going on right now is set around two issues: there are those who feel that the best way to make this economy better is to ensure that the Federal Government is a smaller player in our economy and not running on a deficit; many of these folks feel the way to achieve this is to make immediate, drastic, cuts in Federal spending.
At the same time, the United States has run up against its “debt limit”. That means the US will be unable to borrow money to fund ongoing government operations, and as you’ll soon see, right now we borrow a lot of the money we need to run today’s Government.
So if you are one of those who seeks to immediately cut Federal spending, you could force that to happen by refusing to allow the Federal Government any more borrowing authority; the fear of what could happen after that is presumably going to force the opposition to accept any deal, no matter how draconian, just to obtain that borrowing authority.
Naturally, the bigger a hostage you’re holding, the more draconian of a deal you hope you can make, and holding the “Full Faith and Credit of the United States” hostage is about as big as it gets; that’s why the Republicans are pushing for everything right this very second, from the end of Medicare and Medicaid to the right to mine uranium right next door to the Grand Canyon.
So with all that in mind, let’s talk money.
In the month of August, the Federal Government is expected to take in $172.4 billion.
There will be a mess of bills that are coming due during the month; that amount totals $306.7 billion, and that means about 44% of the bills must go unpaid.
Where’s that money go?
The Big Five are interest on current debt, which must be paid to avoid a default, payments due to defense contractors, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; the five of those, alone, will be just about $160 billion.
And that leaves $12.4 billion to fund everything else the Federal Government has to do.
That would include the remaining cost of supporting our several wars, the entire Federal law enforcement establishment (for example, the FBI, DEA, ATF, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the TSA, the Border Patrol, the Federal Marshals’ Service and the Bureau of Prisons), the National Parks Service and the Forest Service, the Centers for Disease Control, the Weather Service…well, just about every single thing the Federal Government does, except the Big Five.
So that’s the situation – and now it’s time for you to become the boss and make the choices:
The fine folks at Bloomberg Government have created an interactive tool that allows you to point and click your way to figuring this stuff out.
You will find your spending choices, and you just click on what you want until you run out of money, which the handy bar on the left will manage for you. When the bar turns red…you’re out of money.
“…Each month, I put all my bill collectors’ names in a hat, reach in, and pull out a name. That’s who I pay. If you keep calling here, then your name is not going in the hat next month.”
--Steve Harvey, quoted in October 2003’s “Vibe” magazine
OK folks, so now you know where to go, and you know what to do, so let’s make something happen.
Take this tool and use it to create a conversation about just what really is at stake, and watch the look on your friends’ faces when you point out that the entire Federal Government is about to go out of business if Republicans have their way.
I’d tell you the looks on their faces would be priceless – but that’s not true.
Absent a debt ceiling deal, the price is actually going to be about $134 billion, which is the money we’re just not going to have next month, when we’re not doing things like paying for the salaries of active-duty servicemembers or food inspectors or the guards out there at the Supermax.
It should be a fun time, all the way around – unless, of course, you’re one of the 300 million or so of us who are gonna get screwed over by it all.