Posts Tagged ‘michele bachmann’

Not shaken, not stirred

25 July 2011

So far, the Treasury bond market seems remarkably unconcerned about Washington politicians’ abject failure to reach an agreement on raising the debt ceiling. As of 3:20 pm Monday, after a weekend of dashed hopes for a bipartisan agreement for deficit reduction, the interest rate on 10-year T-bonds was 3.00%, up just 4 basis points from Friday’s close of 2.96%. I admit, I woke up expecting more of a negative reaction from the bond market. What gives?

From what I’ve read, there seem to be two factors at work here, of which the bond market is well aware:

(1) The debt ceiling drama has happened before, and those in the bond market expect Congress to raise the ceiling in time, just as they always have before (with the exception of 1979*). In all, Congress has raised the debt ceiling 74 times since 1962, including an average of once a year since 2001. Barry Ritholtz provides an excellent compendium of newsbites about past debt ceiling votes.

(2) Washington tends to go down to the wire on these deals, and this year “the wire” is Aug. 2, i.e., eight days away. Again, history suggests they’ll get a deal done this time, too.

* The 1979 episode has oddly disappeared down the memory hole, despite two months of hostage-taking over the current debt ceiling and despite the fact that the temporary default of 1979 — it lasted two weeks and was caused by a combination of Capitol Hill shenanigans and computer problems at the Treasury — caused Treasury interest rates to be an estimated 50 basis points higher for years, costing taxpayers billions in increased interest payments on the debt and slowing the economy. (Hat tips: Andrew Sullivan, Bruce Bartlett. The 50-basis-points estimate is from finance professors Terry Zivney & Dick Marcus.)

So is this summer’s repugnant, reckless, Republican posturing over this issue all that different from past obstruction by Democrats and Republicans over the necessary and obvious business of raising the debt limit so that the government can honor its commitments to creditors, employees, contractors, retirees, etc.? I haven’t seen anything this extreme since I started following politics, but then again that’s only been 30 years, and this time-wasting exercise that is the debt-ceiling vote has been around since 1917. (It probably served a purpose back then, as we were entering a world war.) If this time is different, the difference may be the simple fact that a great many Republicans (not just Michele Bachmann and the Tea Partiers but 53% of all Republicans, according to a Pew Research Center poll) think it will be no big deal if the debt limit is not raised by Aug. 2, or perhaps if it is not raised at all. Since President Obama clearly does and is unwilling to press for a clean vote to raise the debt limit with no strings attached, they’ve got him over a table.

shaken, not stirred

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Tear down the debt ceiling!

3 January 2011

Ex-Reagan Administration official Bruce Bartlett makes some excellent points about Congress’s annual vote on whether to raise the debt ceiling:

  1. it’s superfluous (no other country, as far as he could tell, has such a ritual)
  2. it’s at best a distraction
  3. it allows policymakers to vote for budget-busting tax cuts, wars, new entitlements, etc., while pretending to be deficit hawks because they voted against raising the debt ceiling
  4. worst of all, if the debt-ceiling resolution ever did get voted down, as some Republicans* are eager to do, the USA would immediately have to start defaulting on Treasury bonds as they came due.  Two hundred and twenty years of building the world’s best credit rating would be undone in a flash.

(Hat tip: WSJ Real Time Economics)

Of course, as Paul Krugman pointed out recently, in nearly all cases, “Deficit hawkery is just a stick with which to beat down social programs.” So if the object of the game is to whale away at social programs, losing the nation’s stellar credit rating would be worth it. At least on paper. “Deficit hawk” is too tame a phrase to describe a person who would favor such a strategy — “fiscal Armageddonist” is more like it.

*Ironically placed next to Bartlett’s blog post was an ad by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Mageddon) to “Tell Congress – Don’t Raise the Debt Ceiling.”

P.S. “Waiting for the End of the World” always sounds better live: