The federal government has accomplished one thing this year. It has cornered the market on red ink.
On Tuesday, the Treasury Department made the dubious announcement. The nation had wrapped up August with a debt topping $16 trillion.
That’s 16 followed by a dozen zeroes.
With a U.S. population estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau at just over 314.3 million as of Tuesday, the share for each U.S. citizen — every man, woman and child — is about $50,900.
Breaking the $16 trillion mark was inevitable after legislation passed last year by a cantankerous Congress raised the nation’s borrowing cap to $16.39 trillion. One thing in life is certain, even more so than death and taxes: If the U.S. government has a spending limit, it will reach it.
The national credit card is expected to hit that limit early next year, which means Congress will again — likely with more theatrics and consternation — raise the federal government’s credit limit again.
When you think about, it’s a sweet deal.
Imagine that you could do that. You have a Visa or MasterCard with, say, a $16,000 limit. You brush against your credit limit, discuss it with your spouse — perhaps even argue angrily about it — then you go online and approve yourself another couple of thousand bucks, raising your card limit to $17,000, and your credit card company goes along. And then you promptly go shopping or head off to the beach.
The question is what Congress will do about it. The answer is nothing, at least through the November elections. All Democrats and Republicans can focus on right now is capturing the White House and majorities in the House and Senate. The people’s business can wait.
Even after we have determined a president-elect in November, the national debt won’t be the first thing dealt with. Congress still has to figure out a solution to a disaster of its own creation — sequestration. That is the 10-year, across-the-board $1.2 trillion in cuts to all federal programs — including defense, nutrition, education, student loans and law enforcement.
“Ultimately,” U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, said last week at an editorial board meeting at The Albany Herald, “the National Association of Manufacturers says 1 million jobs would be lost in the country” if sequestration goes through, including 38,700 in Georgia.
“Sequestration is a bad thing,” he said. “I don’t care how you look at it or how you cut it.”
If the federal government doesn’t change its way of doing business, he said, by 2025 the nation will only be able to pay the interest on the national debt, forcing the country to continue borrowing from places like China and Japan to prop up federal spending.
Those comments were similar to the ones we heard a week earlier from U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Marietta. “As soon as the election is over,” he said, we are reaching the fiscal cliff and the telling moment on the future of our country.”
The fact is, both Democrats and Republicans know something has to be done to head off fiscal disaster. Knowing, however, isn’t enough. Doing is required as well.
At some point — and it’s a point that better be reached soon — Congress and the administration, regardless of who’s sitting in the Oval Office, are going to have to look past R’s and D’s and focus on three other initials that they have ignored too long — USA.
The reason is simple. If our leadership doesn’t start putting America first, America can’t last.
— The Albany Herald Editorial Board