It seems to me that our current “off-year” election has generated more interest than we’ve seen in a number of years – and that’s good. I suppose topping the list of attention-getter’s has been the question of whether we would kinda replace the “hi” in Ohio with “high” if we approve making marijuana and marijuana products such as candy and cookies legal for sale at some 1,100 retail stores across the state.
Then, too, we have a number of local issues such as tax levies and the election of local government officials. There’s lotsa stuff to keep us occupied and when we add the political sideshows being presented by both Republican and Democratic presidential-candidate-wannabees we are pretty well overwhelmed with politics, right? Well, that sure sets the scene for what’s been happening in our national “seat of government” – I have always thought that is an appropriate term, didn’t you?
Yep, while we have been pretty well preoccupied with local stuff, the Congress and the White House have been engaged with their favorite financial/fiscal game “kick the can.” That means coming up with temporary measures to kick substantive decisions about how to deal with spending, the public debt, the deficit and such to sometime in the future. Same old, same old. Been there, done that.
What initiated this current fuss-and feathers? Why now? Well, for starters, the current resident of the White House recently vetoed the bipartisan bill funding our nation’s defense which included additional “off-budget” funding for our military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. He says he will not approve the measure unless Congress gives in to his demands for similar increased spending for other, non-military programs. The timing of his action is important because it coincided with the end of FY 2015 and the national public debt nearing its limit.
OK, time for a quick review of terms. According to the US Senate Budget Committee, the official definition of the “deficit” is: “The amount by which the government’s total budget outlays exceeds its total receipts for a fiscal year.” In other words, it’s the amount of debt we take on in any fiscal year to keep the government running.
In FY 2015 the federal deficit was $439 billion – the dollar amount of IOU’s issued during 2015. Don’t get confused by politicians’ claims of how careful they are of taxpayer money when they say they have reduced the deficit – that means only the amount of money borrowed is less – not the public debt. So if there is a deficit in any fiscal year, that means we are going deeper into debt – OK?
The public debt is the amount this country has in outstanding IOU’s. The last figure I found for the outstanding public debt as of 26 Oct 2015 was $18,159, 508,706,334.34 – that’s $18 trillion – and was anticipated to reach the debt limit of $19 trillion by Nov 3, 2015. The debt limit—commonly referred to as the debt ceiling—is the maximum amount of debt, set by law, that the Department of the Treasury can issue to finance the government’s operations. Once the debt limit is reached, the country would run out of money and could no longer pay its bills.
So how does the current “back-room” deal resolve these fiscal issues? First of all, it suspends the public debt limit through March 2017 – that’s right, no debt limit for the next 18 months. No need to be concerned about any cap on the dollar amount of IOU’s the Treasury can issue. Second, it increases both defense and non-defense spending for both FY 2016 (that’s the current year) and for FY 2017 by relaxing the spending caps known as the “sequester” – that series of automatic across-the-board budget cuts which took effect in 2013. How about them apples?
So what will this mean if enacted as expected? Well, another fiscal crisis will have been averted – no government default on paying our bills, no government shutdown, the military will be funded, and current Congress and Administration bigwigs will be high-fiving about the clever way they have made this happen. What it also would mean is that this agreement will postpone addressing the immense national public debt and huge annual deficit by “kicking the can” downstream to the next Congress and Administration when they take over in 2017.
You know, the more we see how our nation’s leadership is running things the more understandable is the growing unrest, almost rebellion, in an increasing segment of our population during this run-up to our next year’s elections. Well, as long as we continue to settle our political differences by the ballot and not the bullet there’s still hope. At least that’s how it seems to me.
Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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