Negotiations over increasing the federal debt ceiling continue in Washington. As has occurred several times over the past twenty years, Republicans and Democrats are presently using increases in the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip in negotiating how federal tax dollars will be spent.
Most of this is theater. We know how these negotiations always end: the debt ceiling is always increased, massive amounts of new federal debt are incurred, and federal spending continues its upward spiral. In fact, since the last time we endured a major debate over the debt ceiling—back in 2013—the national debt has nearly doubled, soaring from $16.7 trillion ten years ago to $32 trillion in 2023. Over that same period, federal spending has increased more than 80 percent from $3.4 trillion in fiscal year 2013 to $6.2 trillion in fiscal year 2022.
So here we are again with policymakers essentially discussing how long it will take for the national debt and federal budget to double again. As far as Washington is concerned, that’s all fine. The debt ceiling will rise sizably. We know this because what really matters—as far as DC policymakers are concerned—is that the taxpayer gravy train never stops. Equally important is that the federal government not default on any of its massive debt to ensure continued access to cheap debt—and thus massive amounts of deficit spending—now and forever.
To take this narrative at face value, however, we have to buy into some big myths that policymakers are quite enthusiastic about repeating.
These lies persist because the regime needs to convince the voters and the taxpayers that no matter what happens, no major changes to the tax-and-spend status quo can ever be allowed to occur.