On Wednesday, the temporary suspension of the debt ceiling ended, and so now the federal government is not going to be able to go into any more debt until the debt ceiling is raised. For the moment, the Trump administration can implement “emergency measures” to stay under the debt limit, but it won’t be too long before we get to a major crisis point because the federal government is quickly running out of cash. Already, the U.S. Treasury has less cash on hand than Apple or Google, and that cash balance is going to keep on dropping until the debt ceiling is finally lifted.
You may remember that the debt ceiling became a major issue a couple of times during the Obama years. Last time around, Barack Obama and the Republicans in Congress agreed to a horrendous deal which suspended the debt ceiling until several months after the 2016 election…
Since President Barack Obama signed the “Bipartisan Budget Act” on Nov. 2, 2015 there had been no legal limit on the amount of money the federal government could borrow until now. That law included a section entitled “Temporary Extension of Public Debt Limit.” It said that the law imposing a limit on the federal debt “shall not apply for the period beginning on the date of the enactment of this Act and ending on March 15, 2017.”
During the 16 and a half months between the signing of that deal and today, the U.S. national debt rose by a whopping $1,414,397,000,000.
But now the U.S. national debt will not be allowed to rise by another penny until the debt ceiling is raised or suspended once again.
The Trump administration is pushing hard to get the debt ceiling raised, and this is a complete reversal from how Donald Trump felt about the debt ceiling back in 2013. The following comes from the L.A. Times…
Trump sided with hard-liners in 2013, publicly opposing an increase. “I cannot believe the Republicans are extending the debt ceiling — I am a Republican & I am embarrassed!” he tweeted then.
Trump was actually right about the debt ceiling in 2013, and he is wrong now.
We simply cannot afford to keep adding trillions of dollars to the national debt. What we are doing to future generations of Americans is beyond criminal, because we are literally destroying their future just so that we can enjoy an inflated standard of living that we do not deserve today.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has already begun to implement “extraordinary measures” to keep us under the debt ceiling. The first step that was taken was the suspension of the sale of SLGS securities…
“Today,” Mnuchin wrote, “Treasury is announcing that it will suspend the sale of State and Local Government Series (SLGS) securities. SLGS are special-purpose Treasury securities issued to states and municipalities to assist them in conforming to certain tax rules. These securities count against the debt limit. The suspension of SLGS sales will commence on March 15, 2017, and continue until the debt limit is either raised or suspended. As in the past, it is likely Treasury will utilize additional extraordinary measures.”
The federal government will be able to keep going for a little while by implementing such “extraordinary measures”, but the Treasury cash balance is going to continue to dwindle and at some point a major squeeze is going to happen.
As things get tighter and tighter, the Trump administration will become increasingly desperate to get the debt ceiling raised. As I wrote about yesterday, the key for Trump is going to be finding 218 votes in the House of Representatives that will be willing to go along with him.
You would think that since Republicans control the House that this should be easy, but the truth is that there are a lot of conservative Republicans that are not inclined to agree to a debt ceiling increase without substantial accompanying budget cuts.
The proposed budget that Trump released this week is getting a lot of criticism from the left for cuts to social programs, but the truth is that it actually doesn’t reduce the deficit at all…
President Trump’s “skinny” budget blueprint for 2018 features a proposed $54 billion increase in defense spending and an equal number of spending cuts from the smallest part of the federal budget.
That means his changes won’t add to next year’s projected $487 billion deficit. But they won’t reduce it, either.
And remember, that “$487 billion” figure is just for show. During the Obama years the U.S. national debt increased by an average of well over a trillion dollars a year, and that is almost certainly going to continue for years to come as long as the debt ceiling is raised.
Republicans are supposed to be the party of fiscal responsibility.
So now is their big test.
If they raise the debt ceiling and continue adding more than a trillion dollars a year to the national debt, they will lose all credibility with conservative voters on fiscal issues.
But if they try to force the federal government to start living within its means that is going to severely harm the economy in the short-term.
Donald Trump is going to have to try to figure out a way to navigate this crisis. He has already promised that he will not touch Social Security and Medicare, and those are the two biggest drivers of our budget deficits. In fact, it is being projected that entitlement spending and interest on the debt will eat up every single penny that the federal government takes in within 20 years.
So if Trump won’t touch the big entitlement programs, where will he possibly find enough cuts to satisfy the fiscal conservatives in Congress?
Without them, Trump does not have enough votes to raise the debt ceiling.
In addition, many of the conservatives in Congress absolutely hate the new Republican health care plan, and they hope to use this debt ceiling crisis as leverage to change the bill.
If Trump can’t work out something with conservatives, perhaps he could turn to the Democrats. But most Democrats are extremely resistant to work with him on anything after all that has been said and done, and so for Trump to get a deal with them he would have to make extreme concessions.
This represents the biggest political test for the Trump presidency so far, and if we get down the road a couple of months and nothing gets done, this debt ceiling crisis could spark the kind of financial crisis that I describe in my novel entitled “The Beginning Of The End“.
Barack Obama pushed things right to the brink a couple of times, but he was savvy enough politically to never let things go over the edge.
Now it is Trump’s turn, and somehow he has got to find a way to get the debt ceiling raised without making extremely deep compromises that would gut the rest of his agenda.
And he had better get to work on this quickly, because time is running out and the clock is ticking…
Did you know that the U.S. national debt has increased by more than a trillion dollars in just over 12 months? On September 30th, 2012 the U.S. national debt was sitting at $16,066,241,407,385.89. Today, it is up to $17,075,590,107,963.57. These numbers come directly from official U.S. government websites and can easily be verified. For a long time the national debt was stuck at just less than 16.7 trillion dollars because of the debt ceiling fight, but now that the debt ceiling crisis has been delayed for a few months the national debt is soaring once again. In fact, just one day after the deal in Congress was reached, the U.S. national debt rose by an astounding 328 billion dollars. In the blink of an eye we shattered the 17 trillion dollar mark with no end in sight. We are stealing about $100,000,000 from our children and our grandchildren every single hour of every single day. This goes on 24 hours a day, month after month, year after year without any interruption.
Over the past five years, the U.S. government has been on the greatest debt binge in history. Unfortunately, most Americans don’t realize just how bad things have gotten because the true budget deficit numbers are not reported on the news. The following is where the U.S. national debt has been on September 30th during the five years previous to this one…
09/30/2009: $ 11,909,829,003,511.75
The U.S. national debt is now 37 times larger than it was 40 years ago, and we are on pace to accumulate more new debt under the 8 years of the Obama administration than we did under all of the other presidents in U.S. history combined.
Of course all of the blame can’t be placed at the feet of Obama. During the last two elections the American people have given the Republicans a solid majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the government cannot spent a single penny without their approval.
Unfortunately, House Speaker John Boehner and the Republicans that are allied with him have repeatedly turned their backs on the people that gave the Republicans the majority and they have authorized trillions of dollars of new debt which will be passed on to future generations of Americans…
Since John Boehner became speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives on Jan. 5, 2011, the debt of the federal government has increased by $3,064,063,380,067.72. That is more than the total federal debt accumulated in the first 200 years of the U.S. Congress–during the terms of the first 48 speakers of the House.
In fact, if all of that debt had been given directly to the American people, every household in America would have been able to buy a new truck…
The $26,722 in new debt per household accumulated under Speaker Boehner would have been more than enough to buy every household in the United States a minivan or pickup truck–or to pay three years of in-state tuition (not counting room and board) at the typical state college.
Sometimes we forget just how much money a trillion dollars is. In a previous article, I included some illustrations that I believe are helpful…
-If you were alive when Jesus Christ was born and you spent one million dollars every single day since that point, you still would not have spent one trillion dollars by now.
-If right this moment you went out and started spending one dollar every single second, it would take you more than 31,000 years to spend one trillion dollars.
We are doing the exact same thing that Greece did, only on a much larger scale. What we are doing is not even close to sustainable, and it will inevitably end very, very badly. The following is what Michael Pento, the president of Pento Portfolio Strategies, told RT the other day…
“That $17 trillion everybody says its 107 percent of GDP, that’s true. But who really cares about the percentage of GDP? It’s the percentage of the debt as a percentage of the revenue – its 700 percent of our revenue. Deficits are growing at 30 percent of our revenue every year added to the deficits we have already. So it’s unsustainable. What is going to happen eventually – a currency and bond market collapse! And it’s not going out 20 years, as I also heard someone mention. In 2016 we’ll probably be spending 40 percent of all of our revenue just to service our debt. That is what the interest payments will equal.”
The U.S. debt situation is so bad that even the Prime Minister of Cyprus is scolding us…
“The U.S. has been fortunate in the sense that it’s like a bank, it prints the money that other people accept. So you can live beyond your means over an extended period of time without being punished by the market.”
Unfortunately, we will not be able to live way beyond our means forever. Reality is going to catch up with us at some point.
Right now, the rest of the world is lending us giant mountains of money at interest rates that are far below the real rate of inflation. This is extremely irrational behavior, and this state of affairs will probably not last too much longer.
But if interest rates go up, it will absolutely cripple the U.S. economy. For much more on this, please see this article.
And what would make things much, much worse is if the rest of the globe starts moving away from using the U.S. dollar. At the moment, the U.S. dollar is the de facto reserve currency of the planet and this creates a tremendous demand for U.S. dollars and U.S. debt.
If that changes, it will be absolutely catastrophic for the United States, and unfortunately there are already lots of signs that this is already starting to happen. I wrote about this in my recent article entitled “9 Signs That China Is Making A Move Against The U.S. Dollar“.
But don’t just take my word for it. Just a couple of days ago a major U.K. newspaper came to the same conclusions…
China has overtaken the US as the world’s largest oil importer and goods trading nation. Over the next five years, it will surpass the rest of the world combined in its consumption of base metals.
Given the scale of the country’s consumption of fossil fuels and raw materials, it is only a matter of time before the renminbi replaces the dollar as the primary currency for trading commodities and resources such as crude oil and iron ore.
The debt ceiling farce in Washington and China’s growing reluctance to continue underwriting the US economy by buying up its bonds and adding to America’s near $17 trillion (£10.5 trillion) debt mountain suggests that this tectonic shift in the global trade system could be just around the corner.
So what will happen when the rest of the world decides that they don’t need to use our dollars or buy our debt any longer?
At that point the consequences of decades of incredibly foolish decisions will result in an avalanche of economic pain that the American people are not prepared for.
Earlier today, I came across a photograph that perfectly captures what America is heading for. The following photo of Mt. Rushmore crying has not been photoshopped. It was taken by Megan Ahrens and it was posted on the Tea Party Command Center. If George Washington was alive today, this is probably exactly how he would feel about the nation that he helped establish…
If Barack Obama can “solve” the debt ceiling crisis by printing up some trillion dollar coins, then why does the federal government need our money? As another debt ceiling showdown approaches, many in the liberal media are suggesting that if Congress does not raise the debt ceiling that Obama should just have the U.S. Treasury create a trillion dollar platinum coin and use it to pay our bills. It sounds crazy, but many notable voices (including Paul Krugman of the New York Times) are supporting this idea. But if the federal government has had the power to create trillion dollar coins out of thin air all this time, then why do we have to pay taxes? Not only that, why do we have a national debt? If the federal government can just create money whenever it wants, then why does the federal government ever have to borrow it from others? The U.S. Constitution actually grants Congress the power to “coin money”, so why is the Federal Reserve doing it? Those are some very important questions. Most Americans don’t even realize that the U.S. government never actually needed to borrow a single penny from anyone else. The U.S. Congress has the authority to create debt-free money whenever it wants to. Conceivably, the entire federal government could be funded without ever borrowing a single dollar and without ever receiving a single dollar from any of us in taxes. Just imagine that – a nation without a single penny of national debt, no income tax and no IRS. What a wonderful world that would be. Of course there would be other potential dangers under such a system (such as runaway inflation), and those dangers would have to be addressed. But the truth is that we don’t have to have an income tax or 16 trillion dollars of government debt. We only have those things because we have chosen to have those things.
Sometimes, a crisis can illuminate options that most people had not considered previously. As another debt ceiling crisis draws closer, many are looking for ways for the U.S. government to be able to continue to pay its bills if Congress does not authorize an increase in the debt ceiling.
If a debt ceiling agreement is not worked out, the U.S. government will soon only be able to pay about half the bills that are coming due after interest payments on the national debt (which will almost certainly be prioritized) are made.
That is why a lot of people on the left are pushing the “trillion dollar coin” alternative. So how would this work exactly? The mechanics were recently explained by Jim Pethokoukis on his American Enterprise Institute blog…
There are limits on how much paper money the U.S. can circulate and rules that govern coinage on gold, silver, and copper. BUT, the Treasury has broad discretion on coins made from platinum. The theory goes that the U.S. Mint would create a handful of trillion dollar (or more) platinum coins. The President would then order the coins deposited at the Fed, who would then put the coin(s) in the Treasury who now can pay all their bills and a default is removed from the equation. The effects on the currency market and inflation are unclear, to say the least.
In my opinion, if anyone in the federal government is going to be creating money out of thin air, it should be the U.S. Congress. After all, according to Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, it is the U.S. Congress that has been granted the authority to “coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures”.
But those that are pushing Obama to create a “trillion dollar coin” point to a law that Congress passed that allows the U.S. Treasury to mint platinum coins. The following is from a recent CNN article…
Normally, the Federal Reserve is charged with issuing currency. But U.S. law, specifically 31 USC § 5112, also grants Treasury permission to “mint and issue platinum bullion coins and proof platinum coins.”
This section of law was meant to allow for the printing of commemorative coins and the like. But the Treasury Secretary has the authority to mint these coins in any denomination he or she sees fit.
But it wouldn’t quite be that easy. According to a recent ABC News article, some elements of the coin design would have to be determined by legislation…
The more difficult part comes sometime after the decision is made to coin the platinum and before the Mint gets to work in sculpting the pieces.
At that point, the American people must decide whose face will adorn the trillion dollar trinket. The process to determine the “specs” of the coin, U.S. Mint Public Affairs Specialist Genevieve Billia warns, must be “determined by legislation,” creating the potential for another congressional impasse.
So we would likely end up back at square one.
But if printing up a “trillion dollar coin” does not work out, Paul Krugman of the New York Times has come up with another option…
Don’t like the platinum coin option? Here’s a functionally equivalent alternative: have the Treasury sell pieces of paper labeled “moral obligation coupons”, which declare the intention of the government to redeem these coupons at face value in one year.
It should be clearly stated on the coupons that the government has no, repeat no, legal obligation to pay anything at all; you see, they’re not debt, and therefore don’t count against the debt limit. But that shouldn’t keep them from having substantial market value.
Of course there is a very, very low probability that any of these wild ideas will ever be tried, but this debate has raised some very interesting points.
The truth is that we do not have to have a system where more money is only created when more debt is created. We could have a system where the federal government directly creates debt-free money that is spent directly into circulation by the federal government.
In fact, this has happened before.
As I have written about previously, during the presidency of JFK a limited number of debt-free United States Notes were issued by the U.S. Treasury and spent by the U.S. government directly into circulation without any new debt being created. In fact, each bill said “United States Note” right at the top.
Unfortunately, after JFK’s presidency no more debt-free United States Notes were ever issued.
But even before JFK, there were times when debt-free United States Notes were being used. According to Wikipedia, United States Notes were first used during the Civil War….
They were originally issued directly into circulation by the U.S. Treasury to pay expenses incurred by the Union during the American Civil War. Over the next century, the legislation governing these notes was modified many times and numerous versions have been issued by the Treasury.
So why are we using debt-based Federal Reserve Notes today instead of debt-free United States Notes?
If the Federal Reserve did not exist and the U.S. government directly created money instead of borrowing it, it is conceivable that we could have a national debt of $0.00 today instead of $16,432,707,263,449.56.
Which option do you think our children and our grandchildren will wish that we had opted for?
In a system where the government directly created money, it is also conceivable that we could completely do away with the income tax and the IRS completely. The U.S. once prospered greatly without an income tax, and it could do so again.
And the truth is that our system of taxation is broken beyond repair. If you doubt this, just read this article.
So what would the downside be to such a system? Well, of course rampant inflation would be a huge danger. Allowing Congress to print up money whenever they wanted to would be playing with fire. That is why it would be imperative for there to be a hard cap on what the federal government could spend. For example, you could set the cap on spending by the federal government at 20 percent of GDP. That way we would hopefully never end up looking like the Weimar Republic.
And the current federal debt could be paid down a little at a time using newly created debt-free currency. This would have to be done slowly to keep inflation under control, but it could be done.
Of course if you wanted to continue to fund the federal government through taxation, there are other options that would still allow you to do away with the income tax. For example, one of the ways that our founders intended for the federal government to be funded was through tariffs, and we could definitely raise a lot of money that way. Plus, that would have the added benefit of making American companies much more competitive again and it would reduce the flow of American jobs out of the country.
So am I in favor of having Barack Obama create a trillion dollar coin to get around the debt ceiling crisis?
Most definitely not. If it does not violate the letter of the Constitution (which I believe it does), it sure does violate the spirit of it.
But if the U.S. Congress decided to shut down the Federal Reserve and the IRS and they decided to abolish the income tax, and instead they started directly issuing debt-free currency directly into circulation, that is something I would very much be in favor of.
Yes, that system would not be perfect either, but it would be far more preferable to what we have today.
So what do you think? Should we keep our current system of debt-based money, or would a system of debt-free money be better?
Please feel free to post a comment with your opinion below…