Til Debt do us Part

The Bucknell Institute for Public policy held a panel discussion yesterday on the debt ceiling crisis. It was made up of six professors. The discussion started with Greg Meinke, discussing the topic of the summer, the debt ceiling, as well as the current topic being discussed in Washington, the “supercomitte”. Professor Meinke described the debt ceiling as the statutory limit on the amount of borrowing the treasury can issue. It exists as a cap which was established by Congress after World War I in order to give government more flexibility in issuing debt. Professor Meinke’s then discussed the significance of the super committee, which consists of twelve members, six Democrats and six Republicans chosen by party members in each party’s chamber. The goal of the super committee is to cut the deficit by $1.5 trillion over ten years. The super committee has to act by November 23 and Congress has to act by December 25, to implement a course of action agreed on. But if the committee fails to reach an agreement, there will be automatic spending cuts put in place in 2013.

Although both parties are not in favor of the spending cuts , it is very unlikely that the super committee will develop a debt reduction plan. There is a huge gap between the positions of the most partisan of the committee members and therefore in order to meet in the middle and compromise, the committee members would need to agree on a plan that contains elements that neither party supports. This is an ongoing problem in politics; republicans and democrats cannot agree or even disagree on actions which must be made. Similar issues between democrats and republicans arose in the discussion by Professor Wolaver. Professor Wolaver described health care costs, long term deficits and public financing in the US. In conclusion she states that, to address the growth in Medicare and Medicaid spending, we need specific policies to address system wide health care expenditures, the problem here is compromising on policies.

Over all officials are faced with conflicting goals, they want the government to be smaller while they also want the government to do more. The reality is a much more complex situation than the debt debate we are having now. The public tends to be separated along party lines as the Democrats and Republicans want very different things therefore leading to a lack of middle ground between the political parties. This puts politicians in a difficult position because if they compromise they are turning their backs on the people who helped to get them elected. What should officials do in this situation, when faced two different political views? Should they address the debt issue in a long term way or try to make short term changes now?

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