Dead Weight Debt

Throughout medieval times until the early 18th century, one particularly excruciating European torture was peine forte et dure (French for “hard and forceful punishment”). The prisoner was bound, spread-eagled, face-up on the ground. A board was laid upon their torso, and heavy iron and stones were placed upon them until they ultimately asphyxiated. It could take several days for a victim to succumb.

I was reminded of this historical inhumanity by the impending showdown over raising the debt ceiling between House Republicans and the Biden Administration and its Democratic Senate majority. Yes, a pox is on both parties’ houses regarding government spending. In the fiscal crisis du jour, the House GOP has passed a bill for modest cuts in spending. Their Democratic adversaries, however, are of the opinion every single cent of taxpayer money that was appropriated by the prior, wholly Democrat-controlled Congress constitutes essential investments in protecting Our Democracy.™ 

As is their wont, Joe Biden and his spendthrift Democratic enablers’ argument has it absolutely backward. Their irresponsible spending is increasing the weight of a national debt that is already slowly suffocating Americans’ sovereignty, power, and prosperity.

Regrettably, since the advent of credit cards, many Americans view the federal budget deficits and the national debt in ways akin to how Stalin viewed one death versus mass murder: the Pentagon buying a $435 hammer is a scandal, but a $31.5 trillion national debt is an abstraction. Therefore, since many Americans do not much care for statistics, a handful need suffice. They have all been culled from my discussions with a prophetess of fiscal sanity who asked for anonymity. Let us call her Mama Cassandra.

Over the past four years, through the end of the Trump presidency and the beginning of the Biden Administration, America’s federal government spent roughly $8 trillion, much of it for COVID “relief.” As a result, the net interest payments on the national debt are estimated to total $395.5 billion—6.8 percent of all federal outlays—for the current fiscal year, according to the Office of Management and Budget. 

Succinctly, this is almost $400 billion that will not be used to strengthen the social safety net or national security; it will not be left in the pockets of taxpayers and entrepreneurs to strengthen our economy and prosperity. Some might argue that deficit spending has accomplished these goals more quickly; however, it cannot be denied that by pursuing political goals through deficit spending we are paying more for less. Further, while others will assert those same goals were furthered under the New Deal’s Keynesian deficit spending and redistributionist economic policies, what we may have achieved over 80 years ago, with a different economic base and a growing domestic population of workers, is not working with an evolving and unstable economic base, and an almost negative birth rate across parts of the United States. 

And, unfortunately, the intertwined impacts of inflation and rising interest rates are about to deliver a harder and more forceful punishment upon American taxpayers, soon-to-be retirees, and those dependent on our nation’s social safety net. 

As inflation ravages people’s wages and savings, the Federal Reserve has been hiking interest rates to reduce it. In consequence, interest costs grew 35 percent last year and are projected to grow by another 35 percent in 2023. By 2030, interest costs will reach 3.3 percent of gross domestic product. 

What does this mean in everyday terms? Within 10 years, net interest costs on the national debt alone will exceed federal expenditures for Medicaid and defense. Over the next 30 years, paying the net interest on the national debt will be the biggest line item in the federal budget, becoming a bigger expenditure than Medicare or Social Security. 

For every penny dropped atop the national debt that causes it to weigh ever more heavily upon the body politic, your liberty and prosperity are being slowly asphyxiated; until, as in the peine forte et dure, the engorged federal Leviathan crushes our free republic.

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About Thaddeus G. McCotter

An American Greatness contributor, the Hon. Thaddeus G. McCotter (M.C., Ret.) represented Michigan’s 11th Congressional district from 2003 to 2012 and served as Chair of the Republican House Policy Committee. Not a lobbyist, he is a frequent public speaker and moderator for public policy seminars, and a Monday co-host of the "John Batchelor Show" among sundry media appearances.

Photo: iStock/Getty Images

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