As Michele Bachmann and Anthony Weiner squared off on CBS' Face the Nation about the government debt ceiling, I realized how useless it was to debate something like this. The United States government's debt ceiling is some intangible, unenforceable idea like New York City snow removal; it's a great concept but rarely, if ever, executed properly.
The reason that the debt ceiling is so ludicrous is the fact that no matter what the ceiling is, the government will continue to spend money like a soon-to-be divorcee (but without the promise of a good alimony later). Look at the national debt since FDR:
So while we can appear on Sunday talk shows and engage in worthless debate about an imaginary number that will be summarily ignored or raised as needed, the real issue of the actual debt goes unheeded. Think about this: the two options that the parties were fighting about at the end of the Congressional term–extending Bush tax cuts and/or extending jobless benefits–both add to the national deficit (don't worry, our leaders on the Capitol chose both, thus doubling down on debt). It's incredibly disingenuous to fight so hard to add to the debt, only to wait for the day after New Year's to argue about the debt.
And what would happen if we were to reach this debt ceiling and head to a "government shutdown" as Weiner likes to put it? Would everything just stop? Would materiel stop flowing into Iraq and Afghanistan? Would the TSA and other homeland security agencies stop (barely) functioning if we reach the debt ceiling? Probably not. If there were to be a "government shutdown" this is what would most likely happen: members of Congress and other non-essential government employees would not show up to work, Fox News and MSNBC would be rife with whiny politicians and pundits and the Capitol would be quiet for a few days until everyone realized the uselessness of the debt ceiling and it was raised again.
So what is there to do? Beyond electing David Stern as president, instituting a legitimate debt cap and enforcing a dress code (if only to get Charlie Rangel's "fashion" under control), there is little that can be done to right America's way. The Tea Party is all talk, Democrats are certainly not willing to tackle the debt, Republicans are too focused on social issues and the major corporations that sway elections benefit from a never-ending spending of government money. In other words, taxpayers are just along for the ride.
Graph found at On the Issues