"There’s no such thing as a debt ceiling in this country."
-- Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) this morning
Whenever I read something like this, I'm always reminded of the White House neocon aide in the Bush Administration (believed to be Karl Rove) who ridiculed the "realty-based community," telling author Ron Suskind for the New Yorker, "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities,"
Perhaps in Tom Coburn's alternate realty we live in a world with out debt ceilings and defaults. So, it's probably comforting for him that the rest of stuck in this reality-based community that we have to pay off the bills his ancestors here created.
In fairness to the senator, his full quote on CBS This Morning was, "There’s no such thing as a debt ceiling in this country because it’s never been not increased, and that’s why we’re $17 trillion in debt, And I would dispel the rumor that’s going around that you hear on every newscast that if we don’t raise the debt ceiling, we’ll default on our debt -- we won’t. We’ll continue to pay our interest, we’ll continue to redeem bonds, and we’ll issue new bonds to replace those."
Mind you, that's not "why" we're in $17 trillion debt. The debt ceiling is just the instrument that allows us to pay off the debts we've already incurred. So, the...er, reality is that we have a $17 trillion debt because we've either spent more than we have, or we have raised taxes enough to pay for what we've spent. It has zero to do with the debt ceiling. It tomorrow we decided to never raise the debt ceiling ever again, we'd continue to have a $17 trillion debt -- and unless we cut spending or raised taxes, that debt would keep going up.
And by the way, according to Mr. Coburn, it seems that we've never had a government shutdown in his alternate reality. After all, because we've never not re-opened government. So -- good news -- everything is just peachy.
Hey, as long as we're clarifying things, it's worth nothing that defaulting on the debt ceiling is not a "rumor." Unless, that is, the line on your credit card bill -- "Pay the minimum by October 17, or a penalty will be assessed." -- is just a "rumor" in Alternate Reality Land, Here, we get charged that penalty. On an international scale in the reality-based community, too, though that penalty is higher.
As Jack Lew, the Treasury Secretary explained in response to Mr. Coburn, "If the United States government, for the first time in its history, chooses not to pay its bills on time, we will be in default. There is no option that prevents us from being in default if we don’t have enough cash to pay our bills."
The Treasure Secretary has also previously explained -- as have many others -- why Sen. Coburn's theory of debt payment, prioritizing those payments, which works so beautifully in the reality he has created in his mind simply doesn't fly with creditors and reality here on the ground: In a letter to Speaker John Boehner on September 25, Mr. Lew wrote: "Any plan to prioritize some payments over others is simply default by another name."
After all, here in the reality-based community, if you don't have enough money to pay all your debts it doesn't matter which of those bills you decide to pay first from your short resources -- you still don't have enough money to pay all your debts.
On the other hand, it's good to know that we have a better understanding of the Republican Plan to End Every Problem. Just say it doesn't exist. Hey, sticking your head in the sand seems to work swell for ostriches.
And at least we understand the reason Tom Coburn believes all this. Because he represents his state where everything -- it turns out -- actually is always OK. Finally, we now know why.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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