“Are you kidding me!” The cry of anguished disbelief from House Speaker John Boehner has brought down the curtain on a five-year-long battle over public debt that will not be lifted until the presidential election of November 2016.
There may be scuffles and there will be a good deal of wailing and gnashing of teeth, but members of the Republican leadership have concluded their attempts to pay down the massive federal government borrowing will be put on hold until they have control of the presidency and both houses of Congress.
This has been a long journey. America already owed a great deal when the financial freeze of 2008 sent the economy over a cliff. To save the nation — and the world — from penury not seen since the Great Depression 80 years before, George W. Bush’s Treasury team ignored the advice of many of their fiscally conservative supporters and proposed that $800 billion more be borrowed and spent without delay.
The incoming president, Barack Obama, took his predecessor’s advice and set out on a massive stimulus to keep the country he had inherited at work. It is one of the paradoxes of economics that to remain solvent, America had to go deeper in debt.
That lesson in how the world really spins came as a shock to many. To some it invoked anger. While ordinary Americans watched in horror as their homes became less valuable than the mortgages they were paying off, and as they tried to pay down their personal debt because they feared for their jobs, the thought of someone in Washington running up the tab on the people’s behalf caused fear that soon turned to anger.