THE BLOG
07/19/2011 05:16 pm ET Updated Sep 18, 2011

Brother, Can You Spare a Trillion?

Any day now. Maybe next week. Soon. Eventually. It is reasonable to expect, let's say, that Congress will figure out how to borrow money to pay the bills it has already agreed to incur.

It is more than reasonable to want the federal government to spend something closer to the money it collects. It is undoubtedly true that spending a lot more than what is collected year after year leads a country deep into debt, with a debased currency and severely restricted freedom of movement when it comes to spending decisions in the future.

After that, it gets complicated.

In the weeks since the debate over raising the debt ceiling began two different versions of the future have been presented to voters who, at this point, have every right to be entirely confused. Smashing into the borrowing limit will either be:
a) a minor inconvenience
b) the end of the world.
Somebody's wrong. How much appetite do you have for finding out? On last week's Destination Casa Blanca we had a spirited give and take about what it will all mean. Left, right, and center there was agreement that of all the near-term outcomes of failing to raise the debt limit, few possible outcomes left the United States in a stronger financial position and its people better off.

No panelists doubted that the country has to borrow less and collect more. How you get there now was where agreement unraveled. Fiscal conservatives argued that both spending and taxes have to be reduced. Liberals argued that sudden severe restriction in government spending would immediately shrink the economy, making recovery, new jobs, and new demand even more unlikely.

It's not like the arguments have no basis in reality. But when you start to add context and qualifiers some of the rigid, ideological positions get harder and harder to stick with. It is appealing to assume that the huge, clanking, machine of the federal government could simply pay the bills we all like (to veterans, senior citizens, foreign creditors) and leave the others for another day once there's a shortage of cash. There's plenty of evidence it won't work that way.

Oh, and you other guys (and gals): painting Sen. Mitch McConnell into a corner doesn't reduce the deficit, doesn't enhance government revenue, doesn't put Medicare on a sound financial footing, or solve Social Security's (less serious) problems. Had a look at your 401k balance in the last week or two? The uncertainty about what happens in a few weeks is dragging on the indexes more than the general conviction that big growth and recovery is not just around the corner.

Public opinion polls would indicate that even if the president hasn't won on policy, he may be winning the argument in the eyes of the public. The Republicans don't look like they have much running room at this point. If August 2nd arrives with no agreement. Take a look at excerpts of the program at www.hitn.tv/dcb Add your own opinions, suggestions, even your fiscal wish list. How does the country get on a sounder financial footing? Is it possible to do it without asking for tax increases? Of all the thousands of things the federal government pays for, got any suggestions about what we might have to do without? I'd love to see them here.

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