FOR THE WEEK OF APR 18, 2011
Can the U.S. afford to keep borrowing more? The answer is trickier than you may think
Find news about any economic issue. Is it explained in clear language with enough background so you understand what's going on?
See if you can find praise for President Obama on the opinion pages and, separately, a critical comment in a column, letter or editorial.
Heated words about spending, borrowing and taxes come from Republican and Democratic politicians. Look for other tough talk in coverage of any topic, including local issues, sports, business or celebrity news.
When it comes to economic policy, no decision is simple and no question has an easy answer. Consider, for instance, whether a country with a huge budget deficit (our federal government spends way more than it takes in) should borrow more each year from China and other foreign lenders than it did the year before. "No" may seem like the obvious answer. Live within your means, right? Wrong, when we're talking about a national treasury.
This issue is a top priority in Washington as part of the budget debate about reducing the deficit -- an annual budget gap between revenue that falls short of covering expenses. That's separate from the debt owed to lenders, though they're now linked politically. Republican lawmakers, who control the House, want spending cuts in return for votes to let America borrow more from other countries.
The U.S. government had more than $14.26 trillion -- trillion with a t -- in total debt last week, near the $14.29 trillion cap established by Congress. Roughly $5 trillion of the debt was borrowed for the Treasury's general fund from other U.S. accounts, mostly from Social Security revenues, according to federal figures. The borrowing limit could be hit by May 16, jeopardizing the ability to continue financing government programs and obligations -- including interest on foreign loans.
"That's how we finance the government," President Obama said Friday in an interview. Failure to raise the debt ceiling "could plunge the world economy back into recession," he declared at a Chicago event. "It's not going to happen without some spending cuts," he acknowledged. As a freshman senator from Illinois in 2006, Obama voted against raising the debt limit -- a symbolic move he regrets. "That was just an example of a new senator, you know, making what is a political vote as opposed to doing what was important for the country," the president said last week from his altered perspective. "And I'm the first one to acknowledge it."
White House says: "We cannot play chicken with the economy in this way. . . . The consequences of failing to raise the debt ceiling would be Armageddon-like. The impact on interest rates, on job creation, on growth would be devastating." -- Jay Carney, presidential press secretary, April 11
Republican says: "The American people will not tolerate an increase in the debt ceiling without significant spending cuts and reforms. It's encouraging [Obama] may now be getting that message." -- Brendan Buck, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, on April 15
Democratic senator says: "The debate isn't over spending. It's over the role of government itself" - Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, April 14