The Drama Distraction

The political world focused on two people yesterday.  One is seeking a job he says he does not want, and the other is not seeking a job he wants but cannot get.  Rep. Paul Ryan is pulling off the near-impossible.  He is waging a campaign for Speaker of the House of Representatives, and his strategy is to assert that he is doing so reluctantly, while simultaneously making demands of those whose support he needs to win. Normally, such a campaign would be viewed as uniquely arrogant.  But these aren’t normal times in the House.  I applaud him.

Vice President Joe Biden announced yesterday that he will not run for president.  Oddly, he spent Tuesday drawing “distinctions” between his actions while serving in the administration, and those of Hillary Clinton.  Yesterday he couched his non-candidacy in terms of time constraints, implicitly conveying his dissatisfaction with the current Democratic candidates.  A compelling story, to be sure.

But with all the attention focused on the dramatic developments involving Paul Ryan and Joe Biden, an imminent issue of major importance remains ignored, and the nation continues its casual but steady drift towards financial upheaval.  The general public will experience real consequences if this issue is not resolved.

The nation’s borrowing limit, or “debt ceiling”, will need to be raised by mid-November in order to avoid defaulting on previously incurred obligations.  Contrary to popular fiction, an increase in the debt ceiling does not increase spending; it allows the government to borrow in order to pay debts incurred by previous congresses and presidents.  We know that if payments on our bills are missed, the nation’s credit rating will be lowered.  That means the interest rate for future borrowing will increase, and the interest-only payments America makes will be higher.  

By way of example, in 2011 Congress did not reach an agreement to extend the debt ceiling until two days before our borrowing authority expired, causing the Treasury Department’s borrowing costs to increase by over $1 billion.  In addition, the Government Accountability Office estimated that the cost to American taxpayers for higher interest rates caused by that stalemate could reach $18.9 billion over the next 10 years.  

But are higher interest rates the only danger of default?  Like any other loan, government borrowing is achieved via contract.  What rights do our various creditors have upon default?   I have yet to hear anyone discuss the issue of a creditor simply calling the loan.  Can that happen?   Like every other important issue in America, raising the debt ceiling should be the subject of a nationally televised debate.  Questions pertaining to the consequences of raising the borrowing limit – or not – should be asked, and answered.  As always, the very people who will be affected by the outcome of this issue are relegated to the status of mere spectators, while those who are responsible for the outcome of this issue remain unaccountable.  

It is time for America to overcome its addiction to drama, and turn its collective attention to the realities we will be stuck with when the circus leaves town.

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Rob Kilmer, the President of You Defend It, Inc. is a lawyer with a litigation practice in upstate New York.  He hosted the “You Defend It with Rob Kilmer” radio show until 2009 and since then has produced You Defend It debates..  He worked as a guest commentator for CBS4 in Miami during the 2012 Presidential debates, and Pulitzer Leonard Pitts Jr. wrote a piece on him called: “A Solution for Loud, Empty Talk”.

Mr. Kilmer’s initiative focuses on current, divisive issues, and provides members of the public with an opportunity to witness a dignified debate, the purpose of which is to identify how people’s lives will actually be affected by the outcome of the issue being debate.  Towards that end, You Defend It debates are governed by two, simple rules: 1) each debater must directly answer the question asked; and 2) each must do so without a single reference to his or her opponent’s argument, party or (presumed) political philosophy.  In other words, each debater is expected to show up at the debate with his or her own solution – and defend it.


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“If you say it, prove it – because we live with the consequences.”

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