In case you haven’t noticed, Washington is currently consumed in an acrimonious debate over whether to raise the debt ceiling.
There is no agreement about whether to do so or how, but both parties appear to accept the logic that the United States is suffering from an unacceptably high level of government debt and that further debt will doom the U.S. to generations of decline.
Judging by polling data, large swaths of the country agree. Nonetheless, that consensus is wrong.
The Republicans have generally been most vocal on this score. Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader and a major player in the negotiations, has said,
“The government is a fiscal train wreck. It is over $14 trillion in debt and borrows nearly 40 cents of every dollar that it spends. Before us lie two divergent paths: one defined by crushing debt, slow growth and diminished opportunity; and one defined by achievement, innovation and American leadership. We stand at a crossroads. If we are to leave our children a nation that offers everyone a fair shot at earning their success, we must take the later path… House Republicans have taken an honest, responsible approach to confront the debt crisis facing our nation.”
Yet even President Obama believes further debt is untenable and has pledged to cut spending by trillions of dollars in the coming years.
What neither side seems to recognize — or at least acknowledge — is that what matters about the debt isn’t the dollar amount per se, but how much it costs us to service it. And by that measure, the debt isn’t nearly as big a problem as it’s being made out to be.