Courtney: Quit playing games

A look into the debt ceiling crisis.

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Zach Courtney

I rarely talk about my personal life, but this column on the debt ceiling seems to be the perfect time to give a glimpse into it.

I came to the University of Minnesota in the fall of 2019 as a music education major. I was a band nerd. As the Democratic presidential primary, Trump’s first impeachment, and politics in general quickly consumed much of my free time, it became clear that I needed to switch to political science (my ear training and theory professors probably would agree I needed to switch, too).

A big part of political science now being my major is the HBO show, “The Newsroom.” In the show, a fictional cable news show based around real events does its best to cover what’s most important in the news world, even when it isn’t sexy. I try to do the same; the debt ceiling crisis that the United States faces today is a perfect example.

The United States currently has $28.8 trillion in outstanding debt. Yes, some of this money was borrowed from foreign governments like Japan or China, but much of it was borrowed by intragovernmental agencies like Social Security, or by banks like the Federal Reserve. By U.S. law, this outstanding debt can’t exceed a certain amount. The U.S. exceeded this amount on Aug.ust 1, but the Department of the Treasury has used “extraordinary measures” to ensure the U.S. doesn’t default on loans. This capacity is expected to end on Oct.ober 18th. As I said in my last column, we’re running out of time!

While raising the debt ceiling has turned into a political game, the ramifications of not raising the debt ceiling would be catastrophic for all across not just the United States, but the global economy. In a Wall Street Journal column that I highly recommend reading, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen went into further detail about the potential ramifications if the debt ceiling is not raised. Social Security and Child Tax Credit payments would stop going out, federal employees (including troops) would stop being paid, interest rates would spike, the stock market would decline, and more.

Despite this, it seems that Republicans have again decided — as they did in 2011 when they played the same political game — that impeding any potential progress under Democrats is the correct move, even if it puts the United States’ credit and economy in jeopardy.

I hope they’re wrong. I hope Americans see through this partisan political tactic for what it is: Republicans are playing games with the U.S. Treasury’s credit, which means they are playing games with American jobs, livelihoods and the economy as a whole.

In short, we shouldn’t have a debt ceiling. The United States is one of two major Western countries in the world (Denmark being the other) that operates under a debt ceiling. Put simply, there’s no point in having a debt ceiling. It’s needlessly restrictive. Raising (or eliminating) the debt ceiling doesn’t do anything other than make sure the U.S. can pay interest on loans it already has. Though economists might disagree on the details, the reality is that governments with a fiat currency (like the United States) operate in a drastically different way than an average household. The U.S. government can print its own currency if it needs more money; the average person simply can’t do that. I could go further in depth, but I highly recommend reading “The Deficit Myth” by Stephanie Kelton, which goes much further in detail on monetary theory.

While I recommend watching the whole “The Newsroom” series, I especially recommend Season 1, Episode 8, which covers the debt ceiling crisis of 2011. Aaron Sorkin has a way with words, and one scene in particular sticks with me. Executive producer (McKenzie McHale) asks her economics reporter (Sloan Sabbith) why is the debt ceiling crisis so urgent to be covered? Can’t it wait?

Sloan’s response: To give time for the people to call their congressmen and say, “If you fuck with the full faith and credit of the U.S. Treasury, you’re fired.”

Do it. Call your congressperson, especially if they’re a Republican. Tell them to quit playing games. Because if they mess with the full faith and credit of the U.S. Treasury, they deserve to be fired.