Washington

Ross: The wealthiest nation in history is again toying with the idea of not paying its bills

The debt drama is going down to the wire. The warnings are flying, the air is thick with blame – but I remind myself that this is exactly how it’s supposed to work. Our constitutional process requires that every big decision has to get past 535 opinionated Type A personalities, PLUS the Senate Parliamentarian. So it’s a miracle anything passes at all.

And when things get as confusing as this story has, I try to think in terms of what would happen to an ordinary person in this situation.

Me, for example.

I have some debt. In fact, I get a daily text from my VISA account so I know exactly what I owe. Currently, it’s around $4,000. Groceries, some donations, new computer because Microsoft stopped supporting Windows 7. It adds up. My plan is to always have enough cash on hand to make the payment.

But – suppose I could just declare a debt ceiling?

Let’s say I set my debt limit at $2,000. And then when the VISA bill comes, I just tell VISA: Well, VISA, I’m sorry but there’s nothing I can do, I have set a firm debt ceiling of $2,000, and so you’re just going to have to wait for the rest of your money until I convince myself to raise my debt ceiling!

My guess is VISA would probably reply, “Well, Mr. Ross, you already incurred these debts, perhaps you should not have bought so much.”

Then I would fire off a letter on my official personal letterhead saying, “Dear Sirs, Nice try. But if a debt limit is good enough for the United States Congress, it’s good enough for this free American citizen!”

And about a week later I would probably get a notice saying, “Dear former customer, your credit score is now -3, and we want our card back.”

So the question is: Would America’s lenders dare to do that to the United States Treasury? And if so, is the prospect of financial disaster enough for Congress to rise above politics on this issue? Let’s check with the Senate Democratic leader:

“Should Republicans careen our country towards a default, our country could actually be plunged into recession, laying off millions,” said Senator Chuck Schumer.

OK. What about the Senate Republican leader?

“Since Democrats decided to go it alone, they will not get Senate Republicans’ help with raising the debt limit. I’ve explained this clearly and consistently for over two months,” said Senator Mitch McConnell.

Which is why I have my emergency water bottles and freeze-dried camp food standing by.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.



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