Sunday, July 24, 2011

Debt Ceiling Charade: The Smart Options

by Bill McBride on 7/24/2011 09:34:00 AM

Ezra Klein outlined three possible options: 11 days until disaster, three options to prevent it

At this point, there are three serious options on the table. A $4 trillion deal that includes some revenues, a $1 trillion-$2 trillion deal that’s all spending cuts but leaves much of the job until after the election, and a deal in which Republicans don’t come to a negotiated agreement with President Obama but they grant him the authority -- and let him take the blame -- for raising the debt ceiling. Those are our three options, and Congress needs to pick one.
From a pure economic perspective, here are the best options (#1 is best):

Option #1: Eliminate the debt ceiling. The debt ceiling is a joke. It serves no purpose except political posturing. It is not about the deficit - it is about paying the bills, and the U.S. will pay the bills. I've been making this argument for months. Moody's made the same argument last week: Moody's suggests U.S. eliminate debt ceiling
The United States is one of the few countries where Congress sets a ceiling on government debt, which creates "periodic uncertainty" over the government's ability to meet its obligations, Moody's said in a report.

"We would reduce our assessment of event risk if the government changed its framework for managing government debt to lessen or eliminate that uncertainty," Moody's analyst Steven Hess wrote in the report.
Unfortunately some politicians forgot the debt ceiling is just for posing, and they have overplayed a non-existent hand. From the NY Times:
“Our problem is, we made a big deal about this for three months,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina.

“How many Republicans have been on TV saying, ‘I am not going to raise the debt limit,’ ” said Mr. Graham, including himself in the mix of those who did so. “We have no one to blame but ourselves.”
Option #2: Pass a "clean" bill raising the debt ceiling enough to get through the next election (so the politicians don't have to embarrass themselves again). Congress could do this at any time. That is why voters would blame the party controlling the House if the debt ceiling is not raised. As Republican Senator Mitch McConnell recently noted, if the debt ceiling isn't raised the "Republican brand" would become toxic and synonymous with fiscal irresponsibility.

Option #3: The McConnell Option. This is the agreement Klein noted to give President Obama the authority to increase the debt ceiling, and try to blame Obama for the increases.

Those are the smart options. Reaching some vague non-binding agreement on some future spending cuts might soothe some pain, but it would just lead to more articles about how the cuts aren't real.

I'd praise the GOP if they selected Option #1 or even Option #2. This charade has been the worst of American politics. I'll be happy when it is over.

Yesterday (on the economy):
Summary for Week Ending July 22nd
Schedule for Week of July 24th

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