According to a report released by the Associated Press yesterday afternoon, Senate Democrats proposed a $1.9 trillion increase in the national debt ceiling, an increase which would allow the national debt to reach a maximum of $14.3 trillion. This proposal comes less than a month after Senate Democrats voted on Christmas Eve to increase the limit by $290 billion in order to ensure our spendthrift federal government survives until mid-February.
As warm and fuzzy as it might have made us all feel–especially in the wake of Scott Brown’s unlikely victory in Massachusetts–to know that Senate Republicans united in opposition to the $290 billion temporary fix, it’s important to know that increasing the debt limit is nothing new for either party.
Take a look, for example, of the history of raising the debt ceiling. We’ll work our way backwards in time to 1983 — you can consider the dates and do your own math as to who controlled the White House and Congress at whatever time.
- January 20, 2010 – Senate proposes a $1.9 trillion increase to debt ceiling.
- December 25, 2009 – Debt limit increased by $290 billion to $12.394 trillion.
- February 17, 2009 – Debt limit increased by $789 billion to $12.104 trillion.
- October 3, 2008 – Debt limit increased by $700 billion to $11.315 trillion.
- July 30, 2008 – Debt limit increased by $800 billion to $10.615 trillion.
- September 29, 2007 – Debt limit increased by $850 billion to $9.815 trillion.
- March 20, 2006 – Debt limit increased by $781 billion to $8.965 trillion.
- November 19, 2004 – Debt limit increased by $800 billion to $8.184 trillion.
- May 27, 2003 – Debt limit increased by $984 billion to $7.384 trillion.
- June 28, 2002 – Debt limit increased by $450 billion to $6.4 trillion.
- August 5, 1997 – Debt limit increased by $450 billion t0 $5.95 trillion.
- March 29, 1996 – Debt limit increased by $600 billion to $5.5 trillion.
- August 10, 1993 – Debt limit increased by $530 billion to $4.9 trillion.
- April 6, 1993 – Debt limit increased temporarily through September 1993 by $225 billion to $4.37 trillion.
- November 5, 1990 – Debt limit increased by $915 billion to $4.145 trillion.
- October 28, 1990 – Debt limit increased temporarily through November 5, 1990 by $108 billion to $3.23 trillion.
- November 8, 1989 – Debt limit increased by $252 billion to $3.122 trillion.
- August 7, 1989 – Debt limit increased temporarily through October 31, 1989 by $70 billion to $2.87 trillion.
- September 29, 1987 – Debt limit increased by $448 billion to $2.8 trillion.
- August 10, 1987 – Debt limit increased temporarily through September 23, 1987 by $32 billion to $2.352 trillion.
- May 15, 1987 – Debt limit increased temporarily through July 17, 1987 by $20 billion to $2.32 trillion.
- October 21, 1986 – Debt limit increased temporarily through May 15, 1987 by $189 billion to $2.3 trillion.
- August 21, 1986 – Debt limit increased by $32.3 billion to $2.111 trillion.
- December 12, 1985 – Debt limit increased by $174.9 billion to $2.079 trillion.
- November 14, 1985 – Debt limit increased temporarily through December 6, 1985 by $80 billion to $1.924 trillion.
- October 13, 1984 – Debt limit increased by $250.8 billion to $1.824 trillion.
- July 6, 1984 – Debt limit increased by $53 billion to $1.573 trillion.
- May 25, 1984 – Debt limit increased by $30 billion to $1.52 trillion.
- November 21,1983 – Debt limit increased by $101 billion to $1.49 trillion.
- May 26, 1983 – The distinction between permanent and temporary debt limit is done away with; the national debt stands at $1.389 trillion.
Of course, it’s glaringly obvious that this latest proposal stands head-and-shoulders above the rest at an increase of $1.9 trillion. The increase itself is roughly equal to the national debt in its entirety under Ronald Reagan between 1983 and 1985. Still, it should be also fairly obvious that when it comes to responsible government, our apple has fallen far from the tree of liberty planted by our nation’s founders.
Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1826–fifty years to the day of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and within hours of the death of John Adams–deeply in personal debt, but when it came to matters of a spendthrift American federal government, he considered unscrupulous and iniquitous the idea that one generation should pass along the wicked refuse of its own fiscal irresponsibility to the next.
“We shall all consider ourselves unauthorized to saddle posterity with our debts, and morally bound to pay them ourselves,” Jefferson wrote, “and consequently within what may be deemed the period of a generation, or the life of the majority.”
George Washington felt the same way, informing Congress during a 1792 address that he entertained “a strong hope that the state of the national finances is now sufficiently matured to enable you to enter upon a systematic and effectual arrangement for the regular redemption and discharge of the public debt, according to the right which has been reserved to the government.” No measure could be more desirable and no pecuniary consideration more urgent, he said, than the discharge of the public debt without delay.
So, what happened?
Well, spendthrift Beltway types will be quick to defend themselves by arguing that we’re simply not in 1792 anymore. America, they’ll say, is a different nation in a different place under different circumstances. The inability and failure to discharge the public debt, they’ll argue, is a natural consequence and necessary part of our obligations to discharge the duties of government.
Frankly, no matter how they defend themselves, I say it’s a load of crap. The secret to solvency hasn’t changed since 1792 — the black is still the black, and the red is still the red. What has changed, however, is our federal government’s idea of what, exactly, constitutes fiscal responsibility to begin with. For an example, look no further than what Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, the Democrat from Montana, had to say in the Associated Press piece (emphasis mine):
The record increase in the so-called debt limit is required because the budget deficit has spiraled out of control in the wake of a recession that cut tax revenues, the Wall Street bailout, and increased spending by the Democratic-controlled Congress. Last year’s deficit hit a phenomenal $1.4 trillion, and the current year’s deficit promises to be as high or higher.
Congress has never failed to increase the borrowing limit.
“We have gone to the restaurant. We have eaten the meal. Now the only question is whether we will pay the check,” said Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont. “We simply must do so.”
Maybe it’s just me, maybe I’m just a little bitter because only a few hours ago I sat down to pay bills, said a quick “eenie-meenie-miney-moe” and paid what I could, leaving a balance of $7.90 (in dollars, not in trillions) in our checking account, but it seems as though our friends on Capitol Hill have forgotten the No. 1 rule of stretching a tight budget — eat your meals at home.
The rules haven’t changed since 1792. They’ve never changed. Whether it is Thomas Jefferson’s vast estate, my own family financial picture or the entire government of the United States of America, the rules are the same — spend less than you take in. Here in the suburbs of Philadelphia, we shop at Wal-Mart and we eat at home. We turn off the lights when we leave the room. We wear sweatshirts and the occasional Snuggie and avoid the thermostat like the plague. Dinner in restaurants are a rarity, the idea of a car wash outside our own driveway is laughable, and I’m seriously considering cutting my own hair rather than paying nine dollars to a barber named Vince who never gets my cowlicks right, anyway.
We are the very definition of “barely afloat.” And when we finally sell our house–hopefully in the next five months–we’ll likely have to bring a few thousand dollars we don’t have to the settlement table in order to satisfy a loan so darned close to the appraised value of our home that daylight barely breaks through. In the meantime, ending up in the black at the end of any given month by more than $200 (again, in dollars, not trillions) is a flabbergastingly welcome surprise.
And I know we’re not alone. I know there are American families who have it far worse than we do, and every day I thank God for what we do have. The point is, however, while Max Baucus is saying that he and the rest of his colleagues on either side of the aisle have gone to the restaurant, eaten the meal, and are on the phone with American Express hoping for an increased credit limit so they can pay the check, I’m left wondering why these people are eating out at all.
If I have to tighten my belt and you have to tighten yours, it’s only right that the federal government should be doing the same. Furthermore, just as we’ve been selling stuff we don’t use any more on Craigslist and in yard sales, just as my wife is picking up any and all hours her nursing service makes available to her, and just as I’m one short paycheck away from considering shaking my own pudgy booty and killer haircut on the weekends at some fattie-friendly cougar bar, our federal government should be doing everything in its power to facilitate growth from what’s left of American business and industry as well. Cut taxes across the board. Shelve the plans and proposals for health care reform and new energy regulations which have left employers uncertain and afraid to hire new workers. Quit fooling around with an agenda rife with ideas which have never, ever worked or even made a shred of sense outside of the patchouli stink of the faculty lounge, and get to work in the real world already.
The United States Senate voting to increase the stratospheric limits of the national debt may be nothing new, but that doesn’t make it right. Of course, Baucus’s statement may have only been a metaphor, but the meaning behind it and the lesson which needs to be learned from it remains. We are borrowing from China to pay the interest on the money we’ve borrowed from China. If there was ever a time for the American federal government to quit eating in restaurants and start making peanut butter sandwiches in the kitchen at home, this is it.