How to Think About the Gang of Six and the Debt Ceiling

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The new Gang of Six plan, which reportedly saves $4 trillion in the next ten years, might be a great plan, an unworkable plan, or even both. But it has nothing to do with raising the debt ceiling, which we can do at any time, with or without complicated changes to tax expenditures, and which we must do before the end of this week.

A ten-year budget, like the Gang of Six has been hammering out for the last six months, answers an important question: How should we deal with our 10-year debt burden? But that's not the question facing lawmakers this week, which is Should we default on our debt? We should not default on our debt. We should pass a long-term budget. And we should act in that order.

As Congress refuses to pay its old debt until it gets very specific promises about future spending, it's worth remembering how bizarre this conversation would sound if it were held any place except Washington. Like, say, a restaurant:

"How much are we going to leave as tip for this meal?"
"I want ice cream after this."
"Okay, but what are we tipping?"
"Chocolate. With sprinkles."
"Yes, but first the tip..."
"Waffle cone, or sugar."


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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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