The War of the Debt-Ceiling Analogies

Politicians quibble while real disaster looms


A funny thing happened on the way to a resolution over raising the nation's credit limit: The most basic definitions of easy-to-understand words such as "spending," "increase" and "budget cuts" went out the window faster than Anthony Weiner's political career. 

The debt ceiling, which has been set by Congress since 1917, is currently $14.3 trillion, an amount that the feds are likely to brush up against any minute now, despite its having been goosed upwards no fewer than 10 times in the past decade. If the government maxes out its credit card without cutting back on spending, it will eventually have to face a stark choice: stiff its lenders (leading to god knows what sort of financial meltdown) or prioritize its accounts payable from most important to least important (with the latter not getting any more government cash).

The high stakes, and inevitable political melodrama that comes with it, have produced a double-rainbow of demonstrably false statements about the basic matter at hand. New York Times economics blogger (and former Reagan administration official) Bruce Bartlett, for example, wrote about "President Obama's endorsement of large budget cuts," much like Speaker of the House John Boehner saying that under his debt-limit plan, "Spending cuts exceed the debt limit hike."

Would that either of these phrases was even vaguely true. While the government continues to borrow more than 40 cents for every dollar it spends, neither Obama or Boehner has proposed reducing year-over-year government expenditures by a penny. To the extent that Obama's preferred path can even be divined from his peevish oracular pronouncements about "eating peas," he's talking about raising annual government spending from $3.8 trillion this year to $5.7 trillion in 2021. The 10-year budget plan that Boehner and the Republicans are pushing calls for spending $4.7 trillion in 2021. 

Only in Washington can minor trims in massive anticipated spending hikes be considered budget "cuts." Which explains why the bond-rating agency Standard & Poor's has warned that whatever happens this week regarding the debt ceiling, the US needs to present a credible long-term plan in the next three months to stabilize and decrease its staggering debt load or face a credit downgrade.

The debt limit, in other words, is just the canary in the coal mine. The real problem is a long-term trend that can't be explained away with slippery language.

When pols and their co-dependents in the press aren't waterboarding the English language, they are making grotesque allusions that alienate Holocaust survivors and cineastes with equal force.
In an attempt to build support for Boehner's debt-limit plan (which promises to "cut" a whopping $22 billion from next year's yet-to-be-written budget), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) showed House Republicans a clip from a recent gangster movie called The Town. Leaving aside for the moment the refreshing honesty of Congress finally admitting that it's inspired by criminals, the scene featured a character asking for blind faith from his partners in crime: "I need your help. I can't tell you what it is. You can never ask me about it later. And we're going to hurt some people."

But Democrats were not about to get outdone in making repellent debt-ceiling analogies. White House spokesman Jay Carney, part of the revolving door between media (Time magazine) and Obama's White House, compared the possibility of having to prioritize government spending to an acclaimed novel and movie about a Jewish mother during the Holocaust who must decide which of her children to save. "It's a Sophie's choice, right?" mused Carney. "Who do you save? Who do you pay? That's an impossible situation that this country has never faced, and should never face if Congress does what it was elected to do and does its job."

As if paying creditors, Americans living below the poverty line, active military personnel, and recipients of cowboy poetry grants can't be ranked in terms of who gets tax dollars first.

More than a decade into the 21st century, it's well past time to wonder just what the hell Congress thinks its job is, other than to do what the Soviet Union never managed and destroy America from within. As economics writer Ira Stoll notes, in nominal dollars the federal government spent about $2 trillion in 2000, about $3 trillion in 2008, and will spend about $4 trillion this year. Revenues have not kept pace because there is simply no way they could keep pace. And instead of going through a regular, democratic budgeting process—the bare minimum we should expect from the incompetents running the country—Congress has punted, failing to produce a budget for more than 800 days.

If all this suggests a movie, it's not The Town and it's certainly not Sophie's Choice. It's Titanic, which is all about a supposedly impregnable ship being sunk by hubris and carelessness. Though at least the captain and the officers of the Titanic eventually acknowledged that they were sinking.

Faced with such a massive mismatch between actual spending and imaginary revenue, it makes sense that politicians are trying to control the definitions of the plain words that so vividly unmask their pretensions. But it doesn't mean the rest of us have to go along with destructive fantasies that masquerade as fiscally responsible plans.

In October 2008, Barack Obama said, "We've lived through an era of easy money, in which we were allowed and even encouraged to spend without limits; to borrow instead of save. Once we get past the present emergency, which requires immediate new investments, we have to break that cycle of debt."
Here we are, three years on and trillions of dollars in government spending ("investments") later, dreaming of a best-case future in which we go even further into debt.

If the first step of solving a problem is admitting you have one, we haven't even made it out of bed yet. and editor in chief Nick Gillespie and Reason magazine editor in chief Matt Welch are co-authors of The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America. This article orginally appeared in The New York Post.

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  1. Fuck analogies. JUST LOOK AT THIS SHIT!

    August 4, 2011: The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 512.76 or 4.31% at 11,383.68.


    1. What’s the threshold at which people start calling it a crash? -5%? -10%?

      1. well, considering all the gains we made over the last 7 months were wiped out in two weeks… what do you call it?

        1. To be fair, Matrix, I’d call it reality sinking in. The stock market’s been artificially goosed for quite some time now.

      2. 5% would be a crash. Only the valiant actions of my caucus prevented a crash and saved life on the planet as we know it.

          1. That’s eliminationist rhetoric, you fucking terrorist!

      3. It’s down 15% for the year.

        1. Don’t be such a bitter clinger to your filthy lucre.

          Embrace the Wasteland.

          1. I have.

              1. Niiiiiiiice..

              2. Awesome page. Especially if you read it in His voice.

                1. I could not read it otherwise.

              3. California is not worthy! Just kill them all. The hippie and hipster douchebags must go to the slaughter. This is how we will then feed the poor. Soylent green is good for the environment!

              4. WIN

            1. nice. I’m running for President in 2012 as a write in candidate. Fuck Team Red and Team Blue – Go Big or Go Home – ALMANIAN FOR PRESIDENT – 2012!!

        2. I beleive the standard definition is down 20% for a “bear” market

      4. Hey I have been looking for a good time to buy an S&P tracking stock.

        I also hope silver drops a whole bunch. I like those shiny coins.

        1. That’s about where I am. I’ve been waiting for the market to go down like this all year. Shit is still overpriced.

          1. It’s not overpriced if people are buying it at that price.

            1. Ok, it’s over valued based on the actual and projected earnings of the companies.

              1. Actually I thought he was talking about silver. My bad.

        2. I also hope silver drops a whole bunch.

          It dropped almost 35% during the first week of May. You should have bought then. You know what they say about bears, bulls, and pigs, no?

    2. Good thing they raised the debt limit. Just imagine how bad things would have tanked if they hadn’t.

      1. Think of all the investments saved or created.

      2. Just imagine how bad things would have tanked if they hadn’t.

        Now imagine we won’t actually see that. 8-(

    3. Dude, I get all my news from Gawker. And this is clearly the fault of the banksters, and not because holy shit is Italy broke and will need a bailout.


      1. I read the stupid. I think I bailed in time to avoid lasting damage.

      2. “John Corzine will save us from the banksters!”

        1. I got distracted by “In Praise of Star Jones”.

      3. I like how you make fun of all the stupid sites and then the geniuses here agree with you and throw their food at the walls and hop up and down and make funny sounds.

  2. Was it Clinton that started the nonsense of calling government spending “investment”. Cause everytime a politician uses that word, it’s a sure sign he’s full of shit. Like Clinton.

    1. how many things did he say that others could parrot and not be full of shit?

      1. “Hey baby, wanna cigar?”

  3. Economists agree that raising the debt ceiling saved or created 200 points on the Dow today. Had Congress nor raised the ceiling, the Dow would have dropped by 700 points. Please write your congressman and President Obama to say “thanks and keep up the great work!”

    1. I think the story is going to be more like, “If those obstructionist tea partiers hadn’t stretched this out for so long, the market wouldn’t have reacted this way.” Still the same strategy, though- you can’t prove otherwise, right?

      1. It’s the humidity. You can’t prove otherwise, right? BWAHAHAHAA!!

        1. Well it definately isn’t sunspots!

          1. I knew I shouldn’t have thrown out my anti-recession rock.

      2. I especially like how the tea parties obstructed the process between January, 2009 and January, 2011. Very crafty.

        1. Hey, when you’ve got all that Kochtopus money along with the secret Koctopus handshake, it’s a peace of cake!

  4. Please write your congressman and President Obama to say “thanks and keep up the great work GET THE FUCK OUT!!!!!!”

    1. Oh, come on, let me enjoy my birthday — then I’ll get back to saving the economy.

  5. I’m not usually one to worry about the next election, but at this point, does Obama have any chance to get elected? Unemployment remains sky high, what little growth we’ve had is now trending negative, gas prices are high, we’ve accomplished nothing in Libya, and now the market is back into the tank. Am I missing anything?

    1. Nothing more than an entrenched complicent media, a $2 billion campaign warchest, a bevy of shitbirds running against him, the number of truly dumb fucking people that can be encouiraged to vote, ad nauseum.

      1. The Republican turd put up against him could be so unelectable that people will have no choice but to stay home and let the election riggers handle this one.

        1. let the election riggers handle this one

          I think we need to bring joe back to let us know if this is one of those dog-whistle thingies.

          1. Great minds…..

          2. some say he never left

        2. Is there any politician with an ounce of common sense (I know it’s a stretch) who wants to be president when the bag of shit finally tears and lands on their expensive shoes?

          Screw 2012…try again in 2016 (assuming there is an election)!

          1. Apres moi, le deluge…

        3. Election “riggers” huh? We know what you really meant, don’t we?


          1. Rigger, please.

      2. This morning I asked a lady with an Obama 2012 bumper sticker whether she really thought he could win. “Of course. His chances are excellent.” I just mumbled something about seeing how the economy does. If I see her again tomorrow I’ll report back.

        1. War on Africa and Asia — six military adventures going on at the same time — all huge money sucking losing efforts.

          War on Drugs — Door-busting SWAT raids on potheads — real popular, right?

          War on the Economy — This is the only one he seems to be winning. He is kicking the shit out of the economy.

      3. I dunno. The traditional media isn’t nearly as influential as they once were. The blatantness of their leftism has increased precisely as their audience shrunk. (I’ll leave it to others to speculate on the causal relationship, if any)

        As for the warchest, not sure how much difference that’s going to make if the job market still sucks in 2012. There’s a point after which campaign spending runs into diminishing returns.

        Young people won’t vote for O in the numbers they did last time, and the GOP is going to be much more motivated than they were in 2008. And of course, the average independent voter doesn’t know who Tim Pawlenty is or what kind of shit he’s done — just that he’s not Obama. So low GOP nominee quality isn’t going to save O either.

        1. Add to that, the guy has failed in every way possible. Even the shit that should have been easy for him, closing Gitmo, ending Iraq, he did not do. So he did not deliver to the liberal base (except for Obamacare, which is despised by all but those on the leftist fringe), and he has no accomplishments with which to woo others. The ads attacking this guy will be brutally effective. How can they not be?

          1. Yeah, Obama is going to have to spend a lot of that war chest paying operatives. You think he’ll get the Kos kids and college students who volunteered for him in ’08 to come back?

            I got a bridge in the vicinity of Brooklyn to sell you.

            1. Let me be clear.


              1. I agree that it doesn’t look great for Obama, in fact if John Huntsman or Ron Paul were nominated as the GOP candidate I would tell you that Obama is a deadman walking. But the GOP could still screw it up somehow. Roosevelt managed to get relected admist the depression, granted a lot of people actually believe that he made things better, but you know the democrats will be hitting ‘if it wasn’t for Obama it would be worse’ angle very very hard.

                1. Jon Huntsman? Are you freaking kidding me? He’s an imbicile that was put up to it by the DC media. He just lost four more aids today. Probably because they found out he was working for the Politico.

                  1. Gotta be a paid shill. NO ONE supports Huntsman outside his immediate family. There is certainly no one who would chose “Huntsman or Paul”

                    1. I heard he had another misspelled name on a pamphlet the other day. I think that was his media people trying to pull the plug on their bogus candidate.

          2. Good point about the ads. What can Obama possibly do in his ads to make him look good? He can’t tout the economy, security is probably a loser for him, Obamacare will lose him votes, not gain them, taxes are a disaster, he’s blown anything he could have gained with Gitmo, etc…. I just don’t see what he’s going to be able to talk about, without people saying “yeah, right!” or just laughing.

            1. My prediction is Obama jettisons Biden for a Republican VEEP (Lugar maybe?) and runs as a right-leaning centrist against whatever TERRORIST the NIHILIST TEABAGGERS run.The left will whine and moan and turn out in huge numbers.

              1. Let me be clear about this. I single-handedly killed Osama Bin Laden, and if I am not re-elected, motherfucker will come back more times than Jason Voorhees.

                1. And I’ll release his photos in late October 2012 to remind you of that fact.

            2. He can make his opponent look bad. Of course, if the job market sucks this bad still in October 2012, he’ll have to make his opponent look like the devil incarnate to have any chance.

              And of course, absolutely flooding swing state airwaves with your ads can backfire too as people get sick of hearing your ads.

        2. [The traditional media isn’t nearly as influential as they once were.]

          Check the ratings numbers of all major news sources, add up all of them, compare with Bloomberg plus Fox, see what you get.

          [There’s a point after which campaign spending runs into diminishing returns.]

          If there is, such point has yet to be reached, unless of course, you can cite otherwise.

          [So low GOP nominee quality isn’t going to save O either.]

          GOP numbers are irrelevant. Elections are swayed on emotion more than substance. The pud was an inexperienced neighborhood organizer. A neighborhood organizer is a fuck who extorts cash from government and business to redistribute. With such “credentials” the non thinking, but emotional masses elected him handily. Now he is a neighborhood oganizer with some experience (however horrible) AND a $2 billion compagn chest.
          He’s probably in. Not a shoo in, but in.

          1. Prime time numbers from yesterday
            In the thousands
            FNC 2321
            CNN 609
            MSNBC 857
            CNBC 186
            FBN (Fox2) 77
            HLN (CNN2) 773
            So it looks like 2,425,000 watch left leaning news programs and 2,398,000 watch *right* leaning news. What I find interesting is you don’t get even 5 million people watching cabel news. Considering around 122 million people voted last election cable news, in my mind, doesn’t seem to be the force that some think it is.

            1. I don’t think he is probably in, I think it is very much the GOPs election to lose.

              1. You left out NBC, ABC, and CBS. All liberal bias, all for Obama.

                1. About 4 million combined for their evening national news shows, barely 1 million of which are under 55. And you can bet there’s a lot of overlap with the MSM cable networks as we’re only talking about half an hour a day.

                  1. Actually 20 million, it was an average, not a weekly total I was looking at.

                    The point is, that’s nothing compared to the viewership they once had. We’re still talking about roughly 20% of the electorate total without even factoring in the overlaps.

            2. You forgot ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS and NPR and their affiliates.

          2. There was more to it than that. For one thing, people were PISSED at Republicans. Seriously pissed. They still aren’t very popular, but Democrats are even less popular now. Also, the chance to elect the first black president had a lot of pull – I felt it strongly myself, even though I had little confidence in him based on his background.

            1. Affirmative action strikes again!!

          3. Check the ratings numbers of all major news sources, add up all of them, compare with Bloomberg plus Fox, see what you get.

            I said not as influential as they once were, not “not influential”.

            If there is, such point has yet to be reached, unless of course, you can cite otherwise.

            LOL, there’s no citations to be had either way. Ferreting out the relationship between campaign spending and electoral results in a rigorous way would be a nightmare of a study to attempt. I’m speaking from common sense.

            Elections are swayed on emotion more than substance.

            Like for instance, the fact that you don’t have a job or are terrified of losing the one you have because you won’t find another. There ain’t much emotional that’s going to favor O this time around.

      4. I think the “bevy of shitbirds” about sums it up.

    2. …does Obama have any chance to get elected?

      Not only does he have a chance, it’s quite likely. Why? Because the Republicans are probably going to offer Romney or Bachmann as the alternative.

      1. Either could beat him. Romney as “generic Republican” and Bachmann because she is much slicker and smarter pol than the stereotype her detractors portray her as.

      2. Romney or Bachmann won’t have a 9% unemployment albatross hanging around their necks. To the average voter they will be “somebody besides Obama”.

    3. He did it once….and most of the dumb fucks that elected him are still alive.

  6. wonder just what the hell Congress thinks its job is

    Now, boys, using your potty mouth doesn’t help. Our job, as even a small child knows, is to propose and pass new laws. We don’t know shit, uh, much about “fixing the economy” or “creating jobs,” if that is what you alluding to.

    1. Who can blame you? Most of you went to law school, where you learned absolutely nothing useful about the economy or the real world in general.

      1. No, they learned they could game the system and get huge salaries they don’t deserve, for work they force others to do, if they got 51% of people who show up to vote against another idiot just like themselves.

        If you’re an amoral scumbag, it’s a great racket.

      2. Who can blame you?

        Exactly! Anyone who does is just talking crazy!

  7. And what does Matt Damon think about this?

      1. You always were the smart one, Matt.

    1. The Bourne Analogy?

      1. The Bourne Loser

    2. Why would you use Matt Damon and think in the same sentence???

  8. In my considered opinion, the correct film analogy is The Hideous Sun Demon.

    I’m not going to explain the analogy, because if you’re too goddamned stupid to figure it out, then I don’t want to waste my time with you.

    I will also accept Shark in Venice.

    1. Bird on a Wire?

    2. Cum-Shitters Vol. 17

    3. I trust you will also accept Plan 9 from Outer Space.

      1. Oh, and please don’t forget Un Chien Andalou.

        1. Well, naturally!

      2. ‘Rise of Planet of the Apes’.

        psssssst….It’s actually a trial balloon for my 2012 campaign.

      1. “Upon its debut on the art film circuit, the film received substantial attention for its graphic depictions of rape, necrophilia, and paedophilia.”


      2. By the way, that’s several necrophiliac movies you’ve linked to over the last couple of months. Remind me never to die at your house.

        1. or drink or eat anything.

    4. Waterworld?

    5. Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
      [enjoy the fight scene at 1:45]

    6. Karate-Robo Zabrogar.

      From the esteemed director of “Wives Are Often Liable To Be Done ENEMA”.

      Seriously, check out the director’s photo on Wiki. And then imagine him directing pornos. And you will achieve the singularity.

      1. If I stare at his picture long enough, will I see a sailboat?

        1. lol just maybe seeing the sailboat IS the singularity.

        2. You will finally get the orange dick/cheetos Joke.

  9. “I will gladly pay you Tuesday, for a hamburger today.”

  10. I’ve been thinking the (stock) market has been overvalued for a long, long time. Of course QE3 could start up, pumping the system full of more funny money – but according to Tony and ilk, this is no problem.

    1. We won’t like getting repaid with worthless paper.

      1. Oh yeah? Well whatchya gonna do ’bout that, slopes?

    2. Only reason the market has been up at all is all that capital the government pumped into the economy *has* to go somewhere. I think Ron Paul made that point a few years back when a pundit pointed to the recovery of the stock market as proof that Obamas stimulus worked. Doesn’t mean the money is really doing anything or doing any good for that matter.

      1. correction months not years.

  11. Markets fluctuate.

  12. The other reason the Titanic analogy doesn’t work is because the captain went down with the ship. You can be sure that our overlords will fair much better than the rest of us when this all falls apart.

  13. Let me be an optimist for a second, although Gillespie and Welch rightly got slammed for trying the same in their book. I believe we’ve finally passed the threshold where ridiculous lies finally piss enough people off that real change is possible.

    1. So will it be as Al Gore has prophesized?
      An American Fall?

      1. Fine by me. I came into this world kicking, screaming, and covered in someone else’s blood. I don’t have a real problem going out the same way.

  14. If the US economy were Joe Sixpack who makes $50k per year, Joe would be spending $80k per year, have $350 k debt on his credit cards, and a mortgage of about $1.2 million (long term liabilities).

    And Joe just took out another $60k line of credit.

    1. Joe would also have a shitload of assets, so it’s not quite that bleak.

      1. Joe would have assets that he would refuse to sell. FIFY.

  15. Years may wrinkle the skin,but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. Worry, fear, self-distrust bows the heart and turns the spirit back to dust.

  16. It is a grotesque analogy, but something Carney forgot about Sophie’s Choice is that if she didn’t pick one child, the SS officer would kill them both. Despite the Dem’s most fervent avowals, the Tea Party isn’t the SS in this case. That honor goes rather to global financiers (as it so often does.) So in a histrionically overwrought way, Americans are being given kind of the same choice: choose your favorite programs now or risk losing them all when the money really runs out.

  17. In my wildest dreams it’s A Fistful of Dollars.

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