Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Debt Ceiling: What Is It (and why do we care)?

As Congress argues over what to argue about, they are avoiding dealing with THE major financial issue that needs to be resolved now - not in 15 or 20 years. The Federal Debt ceiling, the total amount of money the Country is allowed to borrow as authorized by Congress. Currently it is $14.3 TRILLION and analysts predict that we have until July, at the latest, before we are MAXED OUT.

I use the term "Maxed Out" because it is a concept with which most consumers have dealt. Well, perhaps not with that much money, but the financial reality is the same: No More Available Credit. In consumer circles it happens when your no longer have any available credit on any credit card to make payments on the other credit cards. In Nations' budgets, at least where there is a body that manages finances, countries sell bonds - here, most commonly Treasury Bonds.

Buyers of these bonds are promised, by the Government, a certain rate of interest and payments at certain dates. Well, where the issuing country has more debt that cash coming in (taxes, tariffs, fees, leases, sales of rights to drill/mine/grab oil etc), that country has to sell more bonds to pay the interest owed on the earlier ones which were issued. Striking similarity to the credit card example above; borrowing to pay interest on borrowing.

Here is the difficult part - Congress has to approve additional borrowing - borrowing beyond that which they approved in the last round of borrowing authorizations. If we do not borrow more and cannot pay the interest when it becomes due and we default/fail to pay, the world economy will go into a tailspin. We have been the single country that the world turns to for stability - yes, even after the 2008 meltdown. If we default, the 2008 to present recession will seem like the "good old days" (why were any old days good?).

The issue before Congress, which the Federal Reserve and Treasury have to explain to them, is that we need to borrow more - a lot more; and, the lack of a decision on this matter is already starting to enter the "markets". There is no question that $14.3 Trillion is an overwhelming figure but when measured against the potential growth in our economy and growth of the country, it becomes manageable over time if we avoid spending too much more than we earn. Just like any household budget.

Unfortunately, one party wants to show the other that it stands for "deficit reduction" and will slash spending to fix the problem fast. The other party wants to fix it slower and not slash as much for fear of stopping the "recovery" and growth of the economy. Too many budget cuts and reductions in spending will leave the country with a more dismal future with regards to medical insurance, education, roads, etc. AND MIGHT STOP ECONOMIC GROWTH. Not beginning to balance the budget and to lessen the borrowing will put the country in a hole from which Alice (the Wonderland/Looking Glass Alice) couldn't get out.

We might wish to believe that Congress will compromise in time and everything will be fine, just as before. Maybe but maybe not. Members of both Houses are so locked into the mindset that compromise means the "other guy" won and that we must stand true to our core beliefs (pullease), that they might wait too long. Not to the point where we default, but to the brink where other countries and industry thinks we might actually default THIS TIME.

Jobs -gone. Savings - gone. Inflation or deflation - huge. Depression - there won't be enough business left to employ anyone. Gold (why I do not grasp) - to Jupiter We won't be able to borrow - sell bonds. There will be no lending going on in this country (or most others). Companies will just close their doors. No one will be able to buy anything not made here because our dollar won't be worth anything anywhere.

Why do we play the game? To get re-elected? Or to fix a problem, that took 40 years to create, in 12 months? To be sure that whoever is running a failed country is of the correct ideology? Well - you get the idea!!

Author's Copyright by Richard I. Isacoff, Esq., April, 2011
Twitter: @riisacoff

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