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The Truth About the Debt Limit Fight

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

As with so many of our national debates, the truth about the current debt limit fight is not just different from the narrative set forth by the corporate media; it's the opposite. The media narrative, to recap, is that the debt limit can and should be increased as a matter of course. Anything that veers from this automatic debt limit increase, the story goes, is just flat-out irresponsible. This narrative is being pushed not just in the media, but by Wall Street, corporate America, the Democrats in Congress, and even some Republicans. That's not surprising since those groups are increasingly allied. Unfortunately, since this issue is so much more important than most, this narrative is not just wrong but flat-out dangerous.


Wall Street and corporate America are concerned, more than anything else, with next quarter's profits. This focus is so strong that anything that endangers next quarter?s profits, like a fight over America's debt crisis, have to be avoided at all costs. This sort of short-sighted financial thinking is usually derided by those who should know better. Thinking only about the next financial quarter can result in some seriously horrible outcomes further down the road. But the alignment between corporate America, the corporate media, and the Democratic Party has grown so strong that there is virtually no dissent. The result is near unanimity across the country that a clean debt limit increase must happen and those in the way are irresponsibly endangering the country's financial security. 

The truth is that America is running straight into a debt crisis. Oddly, the voices who were warning of this impending catastrophe back when America had a $10 trillion national debt are now largely silent, even as America has surpassed a $30 trillion national debt. It's as if the problem has grown so big that even all the wise men have given up. The silence is eerie. It's as if America is in a national suicide pact. A national crisis is approaching, but nobody can even mention it anymore. It's gotten so bad that those now raising this very real issue are derided as debt alarmists.? 

The reality is America does need a debt alarm. The debt is now larger than the entire country's annual output. The obligations for Social Security and Medicare are growing. The interest payments on the debt are crowding out other priorities. It's no longer the situation that we had until recently, where the debt is just owed back to the U.S. Treasury. A huge chunk of the debt is now foreign-owned. America's bills are coming due. Fixing this will be painful. The longer we wait to begin fixing it, the worse the pain is likely to be. 


Given this reality, it would be flat-out irresponsible for leaders who understand the gravity of this issue to not use the debt limit increase as some leverage to both draw attention to the situation and hopefully begin to address it. Responsible members of Congress know this.

The vast majority of Democrats? preferred answer to the nation's looming debt crisis is to ignore it. They have even developed wild theories to explain it away. Most Republicans know better, but they are conflicted. First, the corporate world that dominates Washington is not focused on the issue and is instead hyper-focused on the near-term economic damage that a debt limit fight may endanger. Second, many Republicans view the imperative of defense spending, and currently of Ukraine military aid, as dwarfing the longer-term debt concerns. Finally, Republicans have been so hypocritical on the debt issue that it's now politically difficult to take a stand on principle.

Most Republicans were silent as the federal debt exploded under George W. Bush. Republicans then screamed about the debt as it exploded even more under Barack Obama. Then they fell silent once again as it exploded to record levels under Donald Trump. Now, as Joe Biden continues the irresponsible fiscal policies of his predecessors, it's politically difficult for Republicans to once again preach about fiscal restraint without looking like complete partisan hypocrites. It's a tough position to be in. Yet none of this changes the fact that addressing the debt is the right thing to do. 


In politics, doing the right thing is not always rewarded. With all the hypocrisy, posturing, and even lying across party lines, a political reward for those willing to push hard on debt reform is not a sure thing. It's therefore vitally important that the small band of Republicans pushing the issue the hardest be reasonable and smart about their goals. 

What the debt issue needs more than anything today is principled leadership. This means not doing what's most popular, but leading the American people toward what's right for the country. This sort of leadership is, to understate things, in short supply in America. This is an opportunity to exert it. Many Americans are yearning for just that. Saddling our children and grandchildren with a debt-ridden and weaker country is fundamentally un-American. People know that deep down. They just need to be reminded. Pulling that off would be a win in itself. Smartly handling this moment is a huge opportunity for anyone capable.  

Neil Patel co-founded The Daily Caller, one of America's fastest-growing online news outlets, which regularly breaks news and distributes it to over 15 million monthly readers. Patel also co-founded The Daily Caller News Foundation, a nonprofit news company that trains journalists, produces fact-checks, and conducts longer-term investigative reporting. The Daily Caller News Foundation licenses its content free of charge to over 300 news outlets, reaching potentially hundreds of millions of people per month. To find out more about Neil Patel and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators website at


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