I watched NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams last night. Big Mistake.
Because now I’m really confused. I was pretty darn sure until then that “raising the debt ceiling” meant allowing the Treasury Department to pay financial obligations already incurred, such as interest on bonds, Medicare payments, and contract obligations, and to allow continued payments for ongoing financial obligations such as Social Security payments, Veterans’ benefits, and salary payments to federal employees, some of whose jobs are sort of important. (Think: air traffic controllers.) I had thought that because I had followed the recurring-crisis news reports about it since 2011, when the first of the crises began. And because Obama had actually explained it in his Jan. 14 press conference.
But now, well, I think I might have misunderstood, because after Williams reported that the Senate yesterday had approved the House bill to “suspend” the debt ceiling through May 19, he added, shaking his head in disapproval, something like: “This is Washington’s version of kicking the can down the road. Our debt is now more than a trillion dollars.”
I suggest that next time Williams is onboard one of NBC’s corporate jets, he might read, say, Paul Krugman’s column in today’s New York Times. It doesn’t explain the difference between the debt ceiling statute and budget-appropriations statutes, so Williams will continue to conflate the two until he digs deeper and reads earlier Krugman columns or other mainstream-media articles that did that. But it does (yet again)–to borrow a phrase from Paul Ryan in his Meet the Press interview aired last Sunday–debate the efficacy of Keynesian economics, and whether anti-Keynesian “austerity” measures reduce or instead increase national debt in real terms and, more important (although Williams apparently doesn’t know this), decrease or instead increase debt relative to GDP.
But if he is going to wait until he’s up there in the air in that Learjet to read the Krugman column, I hope the trip occurs before May 20.
UPDATE: Additional recommended reading for Brian Williams: Joe Scarborough, Paul Krugman and the economist-pundit divide on debt and deficits, Neil Irwin, Washington Post, yesterday.
Scarborough, though, at least knows what the debt ceiling law is, and that it isn’t the same as budget-appropriations legislation. He does, after all, work for MSNBC, not, say, NBC News.