Debt Ceiling: Extortion! Hostage-Taking! Irresponsibility!

United States national debt as a percent of GDP

As Congress rolls out its latest theatrical production concerning the “debt ceiling,” the same old lines from the same old script are enjoying new life.

New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait calls Republican noises about perhaps not just automatically supporting increased government borrowing “extortion” and a “blatant violation of democratic legitimacy” (because, as you no doubt learned in junior high civics class, even entertaining the idea of not voting in favor of Jonathan Chait’s priorities is forbidden by the US Constitution).

US Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) accuses the Republicans of “hostage-taking.”

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says linking spending cuts in the future to increased borrowing now is “a very irresponsible thing to do.”

I’m neither a Republican nor a Democrat. Among my many reasons for being neither a Republican nor a Democrat is that the only time either party even pretends to care about “fiscal responsibility” is when the other party holds the White House. Had Donald Trump been re-elected in 2020, Republicans would be saying what Democrats are saying now and vice versa.

The current Democratic criticisms of Republicans’ debt ceiling theatrics are, on the whole, correct … if they’re levied at both major parties and the whole of the federal government.

The whole matter of the “national debt” is a classic case of extortion, hostage-taking, and irresponsibility.

The US government, both parties, has run up $31 trillion in debt, routinely spending far more than it takes in and putting the deficit on its bar tab.

At any suggestion that it pay down its debts and live within its means, the extortion and hostage-taking commences.

Whatever your favorite federal program — “defense” spending, Social Security, farm subsidies, whatever — you’re told it’s on the chopping block if politicians are required to take any responsibility for any decision other than just borrowing more money to pay for anything and everything they might happen to want.

Oh, someone will take responsibility LATER, of course. Future generations will deal with it, right? For now, just swipe that credit card and enjoy bone-in ribeye and premium IPA seven days a week instead of throwing in even the occasional Meatless Monday or ramen feast.

Which is exactly what will happen this time, possibly with a little fake “shutdown” drama first.

Government is comprised entirely of irresponsible hostage-taking extortionists who are betting they’ll win … and that when they stop winning, it’s YOU who will lose.

Unfortunately, they’re probably right.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.

Originally published at on February 2, 2023.



William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism

The primary mission of the Garrison Center is to publish/disseminate libertarian op-eds and letters for publication in newspapers, magazines and other media.