Timmons: The Debt Number Won’t Fit in This Headline

January 28, 2023

By Tim Timmons

Last week we hit a financial landmark. We maxed out our credit card.

Oh, the uppity ups in the government didn’t call it that. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen explained that the U.S. reached its debt limit, a plain and simple way of saying, well, we maxed out the credit card.

Except we didn’t. Not really.

But first, let’s take a look at the nuts and bolts.

The debt limit – how much money the government can borrow – is almost $32 trillion. That’s trillion with a capital T and that rhymes with C and that stands for . . . Congress. To quote the good Professor Harold Hill, aka Robert Preston in the Music Man, we surely got trouble.

But don’t you worry your pretty little head about it. The hired help in Washington are working to fix the trouble so that by this summer everything will be all swell again. How? Why don’t you know? The answer to the crisis is just as plain as the dollar in your pocket. They’re going to increase the limit on how much we can borrow! Yup, just like they and their predecessors have done since, oh, let’s see . . . 1837.


The last time our beloved country was debt free was when the man who’s face graces our $20 bills was president – Andrew Jackson. That’s right. The seventh president of the U.S. said that the country couldn’t really be free unless that included freedom from debt.

What a concept, huh?

To be fair, Jackson had his problems. He killed a man in a duel, had a lot of other fights, owned slaves and more. As a human being, he had issues. When he took office in 1828, the country was still trying to pay off the debt from wars – our fight for independence and the War of 1812. Nationally, we owed just a tick under $60 million – about $1.5 billion in today’s money. Jackson, a Democrat, called it the “national curse.” Over his first six years as president he cut government spending – another novel concept – and sold off a bunch of federal land out west and eliminated the debt. To this day, it remains the only time our country was debt free.

Let’s think about that for a second.

Have you paid off a significant debt? A house? Car? Maybe a big credit card? Remember how good it felt?

Isn’t it amazing that in the history of this great country we’ve only done that once in the last almost 200 years?

Fast forward to today. President Joe Biden and the Democrats are playing chicken with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the Republicans. Over the next few months we’re going to hear all sorts of posturing, accusations, proposals and noise. When the dust settles, what we’re going to see is an agreement between Dems and Repubs to increase the debt limit.

Can we go back to the idea that hitting the limit is like maxing out the credit card please? Imagine with me, if you will, that phone call between you and the credit card company. You are well past the friendly voice on the other end asking how they can help. The person you are dealing with now – after maxing out the card time and again – has a hard edge to their voice. There’s no warm and fuzzy anymore. There’s talk about being turned over to collections. The dark and ominous cloud looming on the horizon means your life is about to change. If you can’t pay your bills, you could lose your car – which could mean losing your job . . . which could mean losing your house . . . which could mean . . . Oh, wait. It’s OK you tell the unfriendly voice. You are borrowing a page from your elected representatives and you have an answer: Increase your card’s limit!

How’s that going to go over?

But that’s exactly what’s going to happen in June. The $32,000,000,000,000 – yes, that’s 12 zeroes – will be increased. And just like that, the folks inside the beltway will shake hands, congratulate themselves on averting the crisis – the national media will heave a huge sigh of relief – and the federal spending – which is something around $10,000 every three seconds – will roll on. (How long have you been reading this, a minute, two? Guess what? The debt is a couple hundred thousand bucks more than what it was when you started.)

And we aren’t doing a damn thing about it.

The insanity will continue so long as we keep electing the same people over and over. Isn’t it time for the grownups in the room – and politicians have proven that’s not them – to say enough is enough. Indiana has 11 members in Congress – Reps. Victoria Spartz, Greg Pence, Andre Carson, Larry Bucshon, Erin Houchin, Frank Mrvan, Rudy Yakym, Jim Banks and Jim Baird and Sens. Mike Braun and Todd Young. You want them to do something different? Let ‘em know.

Tim Timmons is the publisher and CEO of Sagamore News Media with daily editions in Noblesville and Crawfordsville. Contact him at ttimmons@thepaper24-7.com.


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