The Greeks once ruled the Western world, but now can hardly rule themselves. And the disarray of the Greek economy has led many to compare, a trifle hysterically, America’s budget deficits with those that led Greece to economic catastrophe.
Of course, significant differences remain between America and Greece.
For one thing, even though it’s become politically incoherent over here at times, there has been a gradual reduction of expenditures at the federal level and even more so at the state and local level, where government employment is lower than in years. Households, of course, have economized even more and are paying off debts.
So if we are worried about the U.S. debt — and we are, so much so that we’re willing to take some tax increases to help pay it off — Americans aren’t in the streets rioting.
Yet as if from a Greek tragedy — or is it comedy? — comes John Boehner, speaker of the U.S. House, to promise a budget crisis every year or so.
We were appalled that House conservatives seized on last year’s debt limit vote to demand concessions from the administration. Raising the debt limit is one of those unpleasant necessities of government. If it’s not raised, America’s credit is at risk — and in fact, the debt limit fiasco resulted in the first downgrade from a ratings agency.
Some portrayed Boehner as a victim of the fiasco, but now the speaker has reiterated a foolish demand that any debt limit increase be offset with equal or greater spending cuts or reforms.
We think it’s hostage-taking that involves the financial credibility of the United States.
We don’t know if there’s a Greek proverb along the lines of “never take a hostage you’re not willing to kill.” But if Boehner is ready to contemplate an actual default of the U.S. government on its financial obligations, even to wait until the last minute in extortionate negotiations, he is ensuring a Greek financial crisis every year or so in Washington.
We think the United States must address both its deficit and debt addictions, but we also think Boehner has chosen absolutely the wrong place to fight a budget battle. And we hope the speaker reconsiders before the next debt limit vote. That fiasco drove the approval rating of the Congress down to single digits.