In the movie, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” Burl Ives plays the role of “Big Daddy.” a powerful patriarch of a wealthy southern family. A large physically impressive man, Big Daddy built his empire from nothing and rules over it, subjugating everyone to his demands. But the family knows he has terminal cancer and fears telling him. Big Daddy feels something is wrong.
Speaking to his son, Brick, he asks, “What is that smell?”
Brick replies, “What smell?”
Big Daddy says, “It’s the smell of mendacity. Can you smell the mendacity in the room?”
It’s one of the great lines in movie history.
Politicians are familiar with mendacity. “How can you tell a politician is lying? His lips are moving,” is an old joke. But these days the smell of mendacity in Washington, D.C., is overwhelming, particularly in the pronouncements emanating from the White House concerning the raging debate over fiscal policies and raising the debt ceiling.
If you didn’t know, the debt ceiling is a cap on government borrowing mandated in a 1917 law. The ceiling has been raised numerous times since then — 74 times since 1962 and 10 times in the last decade alone. The last increase was in February 2010 to $14.294 trillion. Because the government is spending way more than it is taking in, every dollar spent requires 40 cents in new borrowing. Without a debt ceiling increase, no new borrowing can occur. Thus the government, theoretically, could not meet all its obligations.
The big issue is spending. Before raising the ceiling, congressional Republicans want a plan to cut trillions from future spending to get debt and deficits under control. Democrats, particularly the president, want any such plan to include revenue increases (tax hikes). While this sounds like a balanced approach, it is not. The tax increases the president wants come now, while unspecified spending cuts come later. Moreover, in the history of debt ceiling deals, increased taxes have never been followed by spending cuts. Tax increases merely fuel more spending.
The truth is the president doesn’t want to curb spending in any meaningful way. His change agenda for the future of America does not allow it. When he claims he’s for spending cuts you can smell the mendacity in the room.
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