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Debt limit debate obscures conflict over American values

Melvin B. Miller
Debt limit debate obscures conflict over American values
“Don’t worry. America always pays its debts.”

Announcements that Congress must raise the national debt limit create a queasy feeling for some people that the U.S. budget has been breached. When that happens for citizens’ personal finances, they fear that their funds might be insufficient to pay their bills. But that is not the case with the national debt limit.

The fact is that Congress votes for government programs and then the U.S. Treasury sells U.S. notes in financial markets to generate the funds to pay those approved bills. These are old debts. This process is used only to pay existing debts. However, failure to meet those obligations would damage America’s financial status in world markets. The present debt limit to raise funds to pay existing U.S. debts is $31.4 trillion.

The only reason such a common, limited process gets so much attention is that political parties sometimes threaten to withhold approval if the opposing party refuses to support their new budget agenda. To raise the debt ceiling should be a perfunctory issue. Debate in Congress should be where public officials review proposals for new government policies that will then be approved or rejected.

American citizens have much to consider in this changing world. Inflation creates a loss in income that people cannot influence. And Covid is still threatening. Many significant issues beyond the reach of the working class to change tend to diminish the significance of local matters in the news. This is no time for the people to have to confront what they might believe is a national bankruptcy.

Until the debt limit problem is resolved, working-class Americans should be psychologically prepared to hear from Republicans a constant tirade that Democrats do little more than “tax and spend.” During this period, Democrats should try to make voters understand that Democrats approve of programs that require the government to make life in America more comfortable for everyone.

The difference in this philosophy is what divides the Democrats and the Republicans. Conflict over the debt limit should help voters decide which political party to support.

In an ideal universe, Republicans would have a very small government. People would earn money from wages or revenue from business profits. Taxes would be limited to just enough to pay for roads, airports, bridges and other public facilities. There would be few government employees other than the Army, Navy and Air Force.

Much of the famed American manufacturing might would be for the military. President Dwight Eisenhower advised Americans to be leery of the military-industrial complex that gained considerable power during his administration as U.S. president.

The worldwide success of American business leaders gave support to the notion that the unfettered economic market would inspire the average American to rely on his or her natural talents to become an industrial giant. Democrats were criticized for making life too easy by providing benefits for the citizens. The Republican motto for success was “you eat what you shoot.”

One look at the disproportionate division of wealth in America makes it clear that the economic system has not as yet benefitted the underclass. The Democrats believe that the government must assure that all citizens have medical care at a cost they can afford; a high-quality education that is available for all; and freedom, justice and equality for everyone.

Democrats also believe that a beneficent society must care for those who stumbled along the way and are unable to care for their families and themselves. This commitment to love their fellow human is where the political parties divide today. 

debt limit, editorial