No debt deal = doom

3/16/2023, 6 p.m.
The clock is ticking on a potentially serious financial crisis that could affect you and your family.

The clock is ticking on a potentially serious financial crisis that could affect you and your family.

Our federal government’s credit card was blocked on Jan. 19 when Congress declined to vote to raise the debt ceiling to enable additional borrowing above the current level of $31.4 billion.

You haven’t felt any impact because the U.S. Treasury Department has taken what it calls “extraordinary measures” to ensure current bills continue to be paid.

If this has not hit your radar screen, the blockade is due to the Republican House majority.

Led by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican caucus, or at least a faction of it with enough clout, is demanding cuts in future federal spending in exchange for allowing the Treasury to borrow more money to pay for obligations Congress already has approved.

Perhaps you heard President Biden say in a recent speech the unspecified demands from Republicans would require a 35 percent cut in domestic spending, ranging from health care for veterans to food stamps to highway building and farm subsidies. He has asked Speaker McCarthy to submit a GOP budget proposal to see the details of the cuts they want.

There are still months to go before any deal to raise the debt ceiling is made, just one reason this issue is so far getting only minimal attention.

But if this impasse continues, our government risks having to default on paying its debts, slamming our nation’s credit and creating turmoil around the globe since the dollar is the world’s currency for trade.

Ordinary people like us are going to feel it, too, if there is no deal.

The U.S. Treasury ultimately might have to hold off issuing monthly Social Security checks, leaving millions of pensioners who live check to check unable to pay rent or buy food. There could be a pause in payments to hospitals and physicians for those covered by Medicare and Medicaid.

There could also be halts to issuances of food stamps, rental subsidies and other essential aid, and the government might have to halt payments to federal contractors and federal employee pension plans.

Already high rates that affect the cost of buying a car and a home could rise several percentage points. And some estimate that 2 to 4 million people could lose their jobs, reversing the growth trend in employment.

The impacts are uncertain because a default is something that has never happened before, although Republicans have at least twice before used this tactic. And there is uncertainty because of our huge, complex economy, which registers north of $25 trillion annually, including federal government expenditures that amount to 25 percent of that total.

That is why it is so dismaying that the business community, possibly one of the few groups that Republicans listen to, are staying on the sidelines. Why is the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce keeping silent? Why is the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and the national business groups staying mum?

Republican lawmakers, like everyone else holding an elective position, need contributions to fuel their campaigns.

What if big and small companies threatened to pull the plug on funding those campaigns to force the leadership to settle this issue?

Does anyone really want to find out what a default would mean? Does anyone really want to see consumer demand dry up again as it did after the 2008 crash? Does anyone really want to see the building boom end?

Of course, it would be great if people like us began flooding Congress with appeals for a deal to forestall any prospect of a default and the consequences that could result.

But as the saying goes, in politics money talks, and the business community has the organization and resources to really make their presence felt, particularly with a party that portrays itself as the champions of business.

A full array of trade groups representing the business community needs to let those on Capitol Hill know that a default cannot happen.

The conflict over the debt ceiling has nothing to do with the new 2023-24 budget proposal that President Biden has sent to the House and Senate. There is plenty of time for Congress to change, amend or modify that plan.

But battle over the debt ceiling needs to be resolved. Now.