The Buzz Lightyears of Borrowing

Who says bipartisanship is dead?

America’s two major political parties proved yet again that they always agree on one thing: the need for more spending.

Sure, one side says it wants to put an end to runaway military spending and the other says it wants to put an end to runaway social spending, but then they compromise by granting higher spending to both categories. Checkbook balancers, these are not.

It happened again on Monday when President Donald Trump, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer—who get along about as well as a badger, a bear, and a boa in a bag—announced they’d struck a bipartisan budget deal by following the least creative path possible. It feathers the military nest and tosses cash to the masses, no belt tightening in sight.

Never mind the distracting trillion-dollar budget deficit. A trillion ain’t what it used to be, which was a thousand billion. It’s now a mere fifth of five trillion, and five trillion is a whole 21 years away at the 8.2% compound annual rate of deficit growth since 2008, according to data from the Office of Management and Budget. Twenty-one years hence, AOC’s proposed 70% tax rate should be in effect, and all of this will cease to matter anyway, so why worry?

Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy admitted the new budget deal wasn’t perfect, but said “compromise is necessary in divided government.” Such compromise—where nobody gives up a thing but just votes for more spending across the board—has proved remarkably popular in non-divided government as well. “More money! More money!” is as evergreen a chant as you’re likely to hear.

And it worked this week, garnering a federal spending jump of $320 billion and the suspension of that pesky debt ceiling until the end of July 2021, nearly nine months after the next presidential election. Just think of the spending “compromises” they can dream up in the freedom of infinite borrowing capacity.

It’s like receiving along with your new no-limit American Express Centurion card a second no-limit American Express Centurion card. What the heck, why not get one for each member of the family?

In Washington, the massive federal debt might give some pause but everybody knows debt gets easier after the first $22 trillion. Additional trillions just roll off the pen. Whoo! Once the zeros can’t fit on calculator screens anymore, innumerate voters will stop watching anyway. Oh wait, that already happened.

Watch for Buzz Lightyear’s catchphrase as a campaign slogan one of these cycles: “To Infinity and Beyond!” captures the spirit of political debt addiction. We might as well embrace it.

Washington’s idea of bipartisanship has made our politicians the Buzz Lightyears of borrowing.

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  1. Brian Blades
    Posted July 29, 2019 at 5:48 am | Permalink

    Dear Jason,

    Yes, the national debt is truly shocking, considering that it has doubled since 2008. Both sides of the aisle, but especially Democrats, seem to be forever looking for more ways to spend so-far-nonexistent money on “social justice” and “the climate change crisis.” This is the case even as the U.S. runs huge annual deficits. I can only imagine what will trigger the next crash.

    I’m glad I’m not the only one worried about this accelerating ride down the slippery slope.


    • Posted July 29, 2019 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      Thank you, Brian.

      No, you’re not the only one worried. As John posits above, maybe the nutty answer will be to convert future borrowing to negative-yield Treasuries. Put it on social media and you might just gather buyers. What a world!

      My best,

  2. John Prather
    Posted July 28, 2019 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    What will it matter when we pay negative interest on our bonds. That seems to be the trend alongside deficit spending. Actually, borrowing will make money then. Crazy world, but it’s where we live today. I am a little surprised no politician thought of making money by borrowing at negative interest before now. It makes a lot of sense. At negative interest rates borrowing to “Infinity and Beyond” is the way to go!

    Think of buying negative interest rate bonds as a big ole Put 🙂

  3. Rick Michalek
    Posted July 27, 2019 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    The question really is “what can be done?”

    We have put faith in democracy, but in a democracy the spoils go to the loudest (and the deepest pockets… as in the pockets from which the campaign contributions flow).

    When survival is conditioned on campaign funding, and rewards flow to the survivors, the result (of accelerating deficits) is anything but surprising.

    The whole thing smacks of deck-chair rearranging – without transformative fundamental change, we are sunk. Trump is handing out blinders and stomping on the gas; Biden is promising a new era of bipartisanship (but your letter aptly describes the outcome of that); Warren is a woman and too many in the electorate still consider that disqualifying, and Sanders has scared the children (even though he is to the right of FDR – perhaps the last president to serve during a truly transformative time).

    Debt jubilee is looking increasingly likely – a global reset, once the elites have squirreled away enough for their dynasties.

    • Posted July 27, 2019 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for a satisfyingly realistic look at why this story repeats. We should not be surprised when the groups sponsoring politicians get what they want from politicians.

  4. Chris
    Posted July 27, 2019 at 9:50 am | Permalink


    You are so very right about this. It will come back to haunt us in the not too distant future. When the economy is humming along like now, it is the time to balance the budget not expand the debt.

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