MuniLand

Borrowing from the future to fund today

By Cate Long
May 16, 2011

This august gentleman is William Gibbs McAdoo, the Secretary of the Treasury in 1917 when Congress passed the Second Liberty Bond Act and set the first statutory limit on the public debt of the United States. Now the current Secretary of the Treasury, Timothy Geithner, is struggling with the Congress to raise the debt limit for the 11th time since 2001.

A debt limit applies to debt that is authorized but not yet issued. Debt limits are imposed for personal credit cards, home equity lines of credit, commercial loan covenants and the debt of public entities.

Here is data for the public debt of the state of California as of April 1, 2011:

Total General Obligation bonds authorized $ 150 billion
Long term bonds outstanding $ 79 billion
Long term bonds unissued $ 38 billion
California gross state product $ 1.85 trillion

And here is data for the public debt authorized and issued by the federal government. I’m sure you notice an obvious limitation:

Total US debt authorized $ 14.3 trillion
US debt outstanding $ 14.3 trillion
US debt unissued $ None
US gross domestic product $ 14.7 trillion

Our economy remains quite weak and some believe that the federal government must continue to spend more than we take in to keep the economy from stalling completely. This shortfall is borrowed from the bond markets.

Others feel that the debt limit should not be raised and that borrowing from the future to fund the present must end. The confluence of politics, financial markets and economics is called “political economy,” and our political economy is bubbling with uncertainty now.

Here’s a scorecard of the players in the debt ceiling puzzle and their positions:

To get the ceiling raised the Republicans must be brought to the table. If they require cuts in spending here is the federal government’s budget for 2011:

Medicare $ 712 billion
Social security $ 710 billion
Defense and war $ 697 billion
Other social programs $ 427 billion
Net interest on the debt $ 207 billion
Federal employee pensions $ 207 billion
Total $ 3.5 trillion

The Republicans are looking for substantial reductions in spending so the fights in Congress will likely be tough.

The most helpful way of quickly visually the components of our federal budget and debt is this excellent “debt clock.” Be prepared though for a shock when you look at it because you and every American taxpayer are on the hook for $129,000 of federal debt at of the time of this blog post.

Solving America’s debt mess will take decades. The scale of America’s fiscal challenge actually makes muniland’s problems look simple in comparison. America, buckle up.

Comments
7 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

As a member of the “American people”, I would like to categorically state that I am AGAINST raising the debt limit. Spending needs to be cut, government needs to shrink! Raising the debt limit is like telling my shop-aholic daughter that I will pay off her credit card so she can go buy yet another pair of shoes!

Posted by zotdoc | Report as abusive
 

AMERICA IS SADLY LEARNING THE WOES OF CREDIT IN FIRST PERSON. UPTO WHAT LIMIT CAN AMERICA BORROW? WHO SETS THE LIMIT? SINCE THE DOLLAR IS ALMOST A UNIVERSAL CURRENCY ISNT IT RIGHT FOR OTHER COUNTRIES TO HAVE A SAY IN HOW HARD THE DOLLAR PRINTING MACHINES WORK? IT IS JUST A MATTER OF TIME BEFORE THEY PRINT CURRENCY AT WILL AKIN TO THE FED. WHAT HAPPENS THEN?
RECTIFICATION OF WEAK POLITICO- ECONOMIC DECISIONS BY RAISING DEBT LEVELS WILL ONLY TIGHTEN THE NOOSE. AMERICA HAS ALREADY BORROWED MORE THAN 3 TIMES ITS 2011 BUDGET.

Posted by ANTHONYANISH | Report as abusive
 

Not raising the debt ceiling is more like not paying your mortgage because your daughter maxed out the credit card. You must deal with your daughter but perhaps it’s best not to get the whole family thrown out on the street because you want to punish her.

Posted by TomInWisco | Report as abusive
 

Typing in all caps is a sign of mental derangement.

Posted by TomInWisco | Report as abusive
 

We are mostly being destroyed financially by untenable moral stances (doing the right thing) supposedly over and over, never mind we don’t have the money, we’ve got to do it anyway, and pay everyone involved. Welcome to a police state so big it can’t even afford the rope it uses to hogtie itself to the international banking racket.

Posted by Ghetttogether | Report as abusive
 

Zoldoc, I concur completely!

Posted by NewsLady | Report as abusive
 

“Not raising the debt ceiling is more like not paying your mortgage because your daughter maxed out the credit card. You must deal with your daughter but perhaps it’s best not to get the whole family thrown out on the street because you want to punish her.”

Good point. But wouldn’t cutting up your daughter’s credit card be the first thing you did? You need to pay next month’s mortgage too.

Posted by rbhandler | Report as abusive
 

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