Thursday, August 4, 2011

Political theater and the debt ceiling

By Bob Confer

I wasn’t among the countless Americans who fell for the political theater when Gabby Giffords cast her “yea” vote for the raising of the debt ceiling. While many couldn’t see through their tears, I could see through the smokescreen and took it for what it was. It was a climactic moment much like you’d find in a Hollywood production and it was just as scripted as one. Washington higher-ups forced her appearance (against all good judgment) and wanted to paint it as something miraculous. By doing so, they were able to frame the debt debate in much the same way. There is no doubt this is how the spin was intended: Congress, which like Giffords was wounded by hate founded in disagreement, was able to overcome its injuries and forge a bipartisan agreement with Giffords-like resilience, saving our nation from certain death.

The analogy was quite the stretch, even for the spinmasters, but people bought it anyways! Most Americans were actually elated over the outcome of the debt machinations and they felt overcome with patriotism upon seeing Giffords. Even the national press fawned over the bill and her vote, calling everything historic.

Blinded by propaganda, most couldn’t see that it was not a fix for what ails us. Rather, it will only dig a deeper hole for America and spell certain doom for Generations X and Y.

Consider the following realities of Washington’s “miracle”:

The federal government is still spending beyond its means. This was a deficit reduction bill, not a deficit elimination bill. It will cut just $2.2 trillion in spending from 2011 to 2021. Earlier this year the Congressional Budget Office estimated a $9.5 trillion imbalance over the next decade. So, that leaves us with another $7.3 trillion that no one wants to address.

The bill focuses only on discretionary spending and, so far, ignores so-called mandatory spending which includes Social Security and Medicare. Our unfunded obligations to those broken entitlement programs are $15 trillion and $78 trillion respectively. It’s known that their trust funds (whether they actually exist to begin with) will be bankrupt within the next few decades. Despite that reality, Congress didn’t feel it was necessary to fix the problem now. Will they ever?

The bill added $2.4 trillion to our debt ceiling. That increase was the largest in our nation’s history, besting the $1.9 trillion increase passed by Congress in February of last year. That brings our total allowable debt (at least until the next vote) to just under $17 trillion.

Currently, our nation owes $14.6 trillion. There are a couple of ways to put that into perspective. First of all, let’s remember that this is our debt, we’re in it together. Every citizen owes $46,711. Looking at only those who contribute to society (pay taxes), it works out to be $130,243.

Secondly, let’s compare it to our overall economy. Our gross domestic product was $14.7 trillion in 2010. It’s risen only slightly this year and the fear is it will retract some over the next 12 months. Anyway you put it, our GDP and debt are nearly equal. We make as much as we owe. That would never fly in the real world (the private sector): No bank would loan, say, $14.6 million to a small business that has only $14.7 million in sales and poor regard for future obligations and an inability to change its cost structure.

The rest of the world is starting to see things that way. Immediately after the bill’s signing Chinese rating agencies downgraded our debt and tagged a negative outlook onto it. It’s tough when a communist country says you need to cut $4 trillion in spending over the next 5 years….especially when it’s the same communist country that holds a staggering $1.2 trillion in your debt.

Simply put: There’s absolutely nothing miraculous to be found in the deficit reduction bill. That’s what makes it so disgusting that the political machine used Ms. Giffords as a tool to somehow conceal – or make palatable – such fiscal misery. It’s even more disgusting that so many people fell for the political theater. Sadly, if the political playwrights continue to have their way, the final curtain will be closing on America this century.

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. E-mail him at


This column originally ran in the 08 August 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers

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