Will the Presidential election have to share the media spotlight this November?
The latest Gallup poll has the Obama / Romney Presidential election in a dead heat. The polls will undoubtedly fluctuate between now and November, but this early survey suggests the race will keep the media occupied until the bitter end on November 6th, barring the need to inspect hanging chads in the weeks that follow. However, I just can’t help but wonder if even a hotly contested, neck and neck election to name the next President of the United States will be forced to share the headlines with a recurring menace.
This year you would have to peruse the back page of your newspaper to read much about the country’s fiscal struggles. It was there you may have seen it mentioned that in February the government did what it usually does – spent a bit more than it brought in – for the 39th consecutive month. That’s a full nine months longer than Tiger’s PGA winless streak, which was prominently reported on the front page. For some reason we seem more interested in a sidetracked golfer than the runaway train of our country’s deficit spending, but I digress.
It should be noted that the deficit spending streak continued in true American bravado with the establishment a new monthly record of $223 billion. Not bad for 28 days of work. I mention this not only to bring attention to a disturbing trend we would all prefer to ignore but also to speculate on the timing of its return to front page news.
Deficit spending can be largely ignored if your creditors don’t complain and the current crop of politicians all agrees to continue spending with reckless abandon. God willing, the creditors will finance the binge for the remainder of the year without too much grumbling. But the hope that internal strife remains similarly subdued appears unrealistic.
The debt ceiling debacle that rattled markets last summer concluded with a last minute agreement to assist the cash strapped Treasury with operating funds until early 2013. With the kind of spending we saw in February though, keeping the Treasury well heeled and avoiding a debt ceiling conversation in late 2012 may prove elusive.
The stage is thus set for the Treasury to announce that in order to keep the lights on they need Washington’s cooperation to ratchet the debt ceiling higher for a 76th time – all while the country is in the midst of electing its next President.
It is worth mentioning that the opening of this almost comedic can of worms is accelerated by the passage of the recent tax cuts and unemployment benefit extension. Surprisingly Republicans initially opposed such a measure before suddenly and inexplicably caving on the debate. It raises the question whether such a strategy was selected for its dual benefit of helping the party pose as an advocate for the middle class while simultaneously improving the likelihood that the government’s coffers would run dry on the incumbent’s watch.
Deficit spending can’t continue as a sideshow, receiving attention only when the Treasury announces it has blown through its most recent allowance. Such a policy only invites the conflict cited as partial justification for our last (well-deserved) credit downgrade. November 6, 2012 should also mark the end of conveniently blaming Washington for the crisis. When a national epidemic simply mirrors the average American household’s undisciplined finances and expands by virtue of a nation’s unwillingness to elect (and re-elect) leaders who will enact unpleasant change, eventually the blame belongs to the constituents.
February’s record deficit spending is a reminder that 2011’s deficit debacle has yet to produce any structural change. Optimistically, the reemergence of a fiscal crisis in the months ahead offers another opportunity to draft meaningful reform. While the prudent investor welcomes such an agreement, he prepares his investments mindful that he may have seen this show before.