?`s and ANNEswers

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The Debt Ceiling

Today is the final day that Congress has to raise the debt ceiling. As of this writing (12:30 PM Eastern time) it looks as if all the players – the President, cabinet members, the House and the Senate – are finally agreeing to a plan that many of them don’t like but will endorse to avoid last minute default.

For the past couple months the soap in this opera has beaten anything on daytime TV. Whether you chastise one branch of government or another or single out specific office holders, it’s all a sham. And a shame.

Both Congress and the President agree the debt ceiling must be raised. So why didn’t they just raise it and get down to meatier business earlier in the year? Because there is no real agreement on how to cut spending, raise revenues, and avoid this scenario again down the road. Take away all the baloney, and everyone wants someone else to bear the brunt of these hard choices.

The concept of the debt ceiling dates to 1917 when Congress gave the government broader flexibility to borrow and spend money up to a predetermined amount. Since then, the debt ceiling has been raised almost one hundred times, which averages to at least once a year regardless of whether the Republicans or the Democrats are in charge. It doesn’t say much for the budgeting habits of either party. And it supports what philosopher George Santayana said: “Those who do not learn from the past are bound to repeat it.”

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