As The Fiscal Doomsday Machine Powers On—Impeach The Congress, Too!

By David Stockman

On December 16 the gross Federal debt breached a new level to $23.1 trillion, while the net debt after $401 billion of cash weighed in at $22.71 trillion. The latter monstrous figure is notable because on June 30, 2019 it stood at $21.76 trillion. 

So what has happened in the last 167 days is a $948 billion increase in the Uncle Sam’s net debt, which amounts to a gain of $5.7 billion per day—including, as we like to say, weekends, holidays and snow days.

Worse still, not a single dollar of that gain got absorbed in government trust funds. The Treasury float held by the public actually rose by $953 billion.

So why in the world do the knuckleheads on bubblevision not understand where the spiking rates and ructions in the repo market came from?

The law of supply and demand is still operative, and the US Treasury is literally flooding the bond pits with new supply. Even at the bottom of the Great Recession, Uncle Sam did not drain $5.7 billion per day from the bond market.

But nary a soul down in the Imperial City has noticed this borrowing eruption at the tippy-top of the business cycle, which now teeters on borrowed time at a record 127 months of age. Instead, this very day the Congress is busily engaged in what is a fair approximation of abolishing the election process at the heart of American democracy.

We will address today’s hideous impeachment Gong Show below. But here we note that every talking head showing up on the screen today is claiming that the market can keep on bubbling higher because the pending impeachment of the nation’s 45th president is a great big nothingburger.

Au contraire!

It’s real, deeper meaning is that the Washington end of the Acela Corridor is now morphing into a disruptive missile aimed right at the canyons of Wall Street.

​Of course, the Donald won’t be “convicted” by the Republican Senate. Indeed, the House impeachment resolution my never even be sent to the Senate if Nancy and her ship of fools conclude there won’t be a real “trial” in the Senate and therefore leave the resolutions sitting on the parliamentarians desk as camera ready campaign fodder for 2020.

But, hey, a government which can treat the supposedly solemn and extraordinary process of impeachment as a mere exercise in campaign theatrics is a government that has given the term “dysfunctional” an altogether new definition. It means that the conduct of the actual business of the people’s government has virtually ceased.

To be sure, we would ordinarily consider a government that does absolutely nothing to be praise-worthy. After all, the route to prosperity does not extend through the halls of Congress or the vast departments inside the beltway, but stems from the genius of free enterprise and the exertions and inspiration of workers, employers, savers, investors and inventors. They require neither help nor superintendence from an activist Federal government.

Likewise, a reticent government is all we really need for national defense. The latter has been more than taken care of by the god-created ocean moats which secure our shores and our already paid for nuclear deterrent which keeps distant foes at bay. All the rest of the $900 billion of so-called national security spending and the vast and unremitting Washington machinations it funds are in behalf of Empire, not the safety and liberty of the homeland.

But the fly in the ointment is that several generations of Washington politicians have turned the Federal budget into a Fiscal Doomsday Machine. Spending for both automatic entitlements and so-called discretionary programs alike gushes higher, pulling the public debt upwards as it goes, with virtually no meaningful legislative action.

Consequently, the fractured and inflamed partisanship evident in today’s demented proceedings has become the handmaid of the nation’s impending fiscal catastrophe. That is, government must take positive and sweeping legislative action to brake the Doomsday Machine, but James Madison’s checks and balances have always made large-scale statutory enactments difficult, while today’s metastasized partisanship have made them well nigh impossible.

It is generally understood that the giant entitlements—-Social Security, Federal retirement, Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps and the lesser income security programs- –are automatic, permanently authorized payments that currently flow to upwards of 160 million Americans and will continue to do so, whether Congress does its job or not.

But what needs emphasis is that the rate of growth is accelerating—-in effect, it is busting loose from the growth rate of the faltering national economy which must finance these massive entitlements.

Thus, between 1987 and 2000, total Federal entitlement spending soared from $358 billion to $778 billion or by 117%. But during those first 13 years of Greenspan’s reign, the Fed’s easy money was able to goose nominal GDP by 115%, meaning that the entitlement claim on GDP remained constant at about 7.5%.

Since then, it has been off to the races as shown in the graph below. During the last 19 years, nominal GDP (brown line) doubled again, but Federal entitlement spending (purple line) tripled, and its claim on GDP rose from 7.5% to 11.0%.

What this means is that every year the legislative stalemate and inaction persists is another year in which the Fiscal Doomsday Machine gathers even more momentum.

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