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STAR FEATURE: Debt Ceiling Decision Looms For Virginians / All Americans

31,400,000,000,000 . . .

Thirty-one trillion four hundred billion is a difficult number to conceptualize. Fourteen digits are used to assemble the quantity, eleven zeros following three whole numbers. A value of its size is usually reserved for an elementary school quiz on scientific notation, not U.S. dollars.

Unfortunately, 31.4 trillion does not represent the windfall of cash that the United States has earned from a particularly fortuitous lottery, but rather the amount of money that the U.S. government has the ability to borrow to pay their bills – and that number is about to rise.

Debt is a controversial topic, whether in a family household, an international business, or even in the U.S. government. Usually, when the accounts turn red, large spending stops and budgeting begins. In essence, that is what the government does to try and diminish the debt. But what about basic necessities like healthcare? That can’t just be taken away. And infrastructure? Our country must be safe and functional.

Also, that “really important action” will guarantee reelection of a certain politician. That’s necessary, too, right? Each side of the political playing-field shouts, “No!” and, “Yes!” like children discussing the rules of a game while it is already in play.

The debt limit bends to the priorities of each party and for a settlement to be reached both sides have to agree on 1.) the conditions of raising the limit, and 2.) the amount to which it will be raised.

Historically, problems arise when Democrats and Republicans are forced to compromise; this situation is no different. The Democratic Party believes that the debt limit should be raised unconditionally. According to their point of view, the basic task of coming to a settlement in both houses of Congress should take priority. Democrats, however, do not necessarily regard the debt ceiling with apathy. Objectively speaking, the large sum of debt which the United States has incurred is cause for concern. The blue party simply believes that terms of a budget and limits on spending should be negotiated after the numerical limit is agreed upon.

The Republican Party takes a more demanding stance. They agree that it is vital that the debt ceiling be raised, but their agreement to increase the limit relies on Democrat reciprocity. Republicans have outlined a plan called the “Limit, Save, Grow Act of 2023.” As the name implies, this is a classic budget plan but political complexities inside of the bill impede easy passage through Congress. The act includes the termination of certain funds related to Covid-19, higher regulation of student loan relief, limitation on tax benefits for green energy and added requirements for the receival of SNAP benefits.

All of these services are predominantly supported by Democrats, sparking tension between the two groups. If the bill were to pass, it could demonstrate Republican dominance in Congress. However, if a budget plan like the Limit, Save, Grow Act were to not be approved, people worry that the debt ceiling would continue to rise without restriction.

Agreement on a new debt limit seems like an unfeasible undertaking, but the alternative possibility is too dreadful for Congress to allow it to come to fruition. The secondary solution is no solution at all: Like a standard person who cannot pay off a loan, Congress would have to default. What happens when a person defaults? Their credit score drops; banks are unlikely to provide other loans to the client, because they lose faith in their ability to pay; friends may also be apprehensive when letting the defaulter borrow money, because they do not seem reliable anymore; and others do not approach them for financial assistance, or even general guidance, because they do not seem fiscally responsible.

The United States could fall prey to a similar version of this timeless tale if they default. While countries do not have credit scores, they do have credit ratings and that of the U.S. could take a deep plunge. Banks would probably not be keen on bailing the U.S. out of their troubles because their monies may not be returned. Other countries would also lose respect for the United States, and its power would be diminished in the eyes of the world.

A poor and weak country is not ideal, but those descriptions could apply to the U.S. if Congress defaults. Out of necessity, Congress is expected to increase the debt limit by the beginning of June. The most pressing question is whether new rules will be implemented to regulate government spending.

Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine were contacted for comment on their opinions concerning the debt ceiling. The inquiries sent by The Roanoke Star are detailed:

1) What is the maximum value that you believe the debt ceiling should be permitted to reach? What factors go into deciding the limit on national outstanding debt?

2) About how much interest does the U.S. government pay on this debt (per week, quarter, or year)? Do you believe that it is vital that we continue to raise the ceiling, or do you believe that money such as that spent on interest would be better utilized for other purposes?

3) Does the national government have a plan to pay this debt off? If so, what are the details of the plan and the estimated time that it will take to fully eliminate national debt?

4) Do you believe that this debt is a national security threat or affects the wellbeing of Americans in other ways? How may the increased debt ceiling affect Virginia residents specifically?

The Senators replied with a joint statement: “Allowing the U.S. government to default on its debt would wreak havoc on our economy. It would catapult housing costs, credit card debt, and unemployment rates, while plummeting Americans’ savings and retirement plans. This isn’t about authorizing new spending – it’s about paying the bills we’ve already incurred. We must raise the debt limit, avoid a global economic crisis, and talk about spending priorities as a part of the normal appropriations process.”

Both Senators are Democrats and are not expected to vote in favor of the Limit, Save, Grow Act of 2023. Republican Congressmen Ben Cline and Morgan Griffith were contacted as well and while Cline did not reply by the date of publication, Congressman Griffith’s office directed The Roanoke Star to a recent statement he sent explaining that Griffith “has not voted for a debt ceiling bill that did not include cuts or reforms to our spending practices” and that he supports the Limit, Save, Grow Act along with other legislation that limits government spending.

After conducting thorough research for this article, I can confidently assert that the United States economy is an overwhelming subject – and many other teenagers apparently agree. The opinions of adults on issues such as the one discussed in this article are never absent. However, young adults rarely have a forum to offer their thoughts on certain topics, so I attempted to create a space that promotes open dialogue on the subject.

Searching for the perspectives of young people on the debt ceiling quickly proved itself to be a task for the resolute.  Hours of texting, calling, and interviewing resulted in few opinions on the debt limit. Many teens openly admitted that they vaguely knew what the term “debt ceiling” actually means but did not have a thorough — or even surface-level – understanding of it.

As a young adult, I was not particularly surprised by these results. After all, what teen / “20 something” is researching the United States economy in their free time? Perhaps there are some who are particularly insightful, but most (myself included) have other matters which typically take precedent.

After a quick search of the internet, however, I quickly developed an opinion: 31.4 trillion dollars is an absurd amount of money, and the fact that it still isn’t enough to prevent the government from defaulting is terrifying. One teen called the limit “pointless,” another recognizing the obvious solution as, “spending less.” With debt being incurred at higher rates and tax money seemingly being spent more recklessly, the debt ceiling seems more like an apparatus to calm the American public rather than a lasting solution to limiting debt.

As a member of the next generation that will inherit this massive unpaid bill, a great first step to helping us understand the problem would be more transparency with government spending. Large labels such as “defense” and “healthcare” are associated with certain government spending, but smaller expenses add up to be the main contributors to the issue. The government could be forgetting to cancel that streaming service subscription that they never use, along with thousands of others for which no one is likely accountable.

Teenagers, along with many adults, want to better understand the aspects of the United States political and economic systems which will become their burdens in a short amount of time, but they will not be able to do so unless those in charge provide a better means to fully comprehend the issue.

The debt ceiling debate is ongoing and a solution is yet to be agreed upon. As the “X-date” approaches, tensions are heightening. Will the U.S. government default? Realistically, probably not. Is this still a noteworthy topic which is critical to the wellbeing of the United States and the people that reside within its borders? Absolutely. A pragmatic system must be implemented to prevent debt from becoming unmanageable. The United States simply cannot continue to inflate a debt ceiling with more empty promises and political duplicity.

– Sophia Stringer / The Roanoke Star

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