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    關于美國債務上限,需要了解的五件事

    Erik Sherman 2019年07月25日

    美國政府債務上限這個話題很有可能比今夏的天氣還熱。

    一位男士走過紐約市中城43街的國債鐘,2019年2月15日。圖片來源:Timothy A. Clary—AFP/Getty Images

    正如《財富》雜志在今年4月所述,美國政府債務上限這個話題很有可能比今夏的天氣還熱。

    終于,在眾議院議長南希·佩洛西和財政部部長史蒂文·姆努欽會談后,民主、共和兩黨看來很快就要達成協議,從而將政府債務觸及上限的時間推遲到2021年7月。此舉將永久性終結自動減支措施,將年度民用及國防開支總和提高3200億美元,同時納入7500萬美元的開支抵銷項,以便減少凈赤字,使政府債務年增幅略有下降。

    要跟上事態發展,大家就需要弄清楚下列問題。

    什么是政府債務上限?

    債務上限是政府控制美國負債規模的工具。建國后,美國的負債水平一直起伏不定。國會在很久以前就不得不對財政部的所有借款需求進行授權。

    1917年美國正在為一戰投入巨額資金,此時國會通過了改變債務管理方式的法案。財政部獲得了一攬子授權,可以通過債券等多種方式舉債,前提是負債總額在限定范圍內。1939年,國會將這樣的思路拓展到了美國的所有債務上。

    從那時起,國會被迫多次提高債務上限,以便為政府借貸提供空間。

    債務上限為何持續上升?

    有兩個原因。一是美國的支出一直高于其收入。2017年稅法讓這個問題的嚴重程度遠遠超過擁護者預期的水平,本財年(截至今年10月)美國的債務有可能再增加1.4萬億美元。

    另一個原因是為原有債務支付利息。美國定期滾轉現有債務,目的是維持大多數負債。隨著利率上升或者債務增多,美國支付的利息總額也在增長。正如預算監測機構彼得森基金會指出的那樣,按照國會預算辦公室的估計,到2025年債務利息將成為美國政府預算的第三大單項支出。

    我們為什么不停止借款以減少開支呢?

    美國的債務并不是為了今后的支出,相反,它是以前的支出和財務負擔,包括國家債務要支付的利息。

    大家可以把國家債務想象成信用卡賬戶。政府計劃開支,然后收到賬單,包括利息在內。而政府的收入不足以支付到期款項,所以才要借錢。和信用卡不同的是,政府借款還要用于償還以前的信用卡賬單,所以美國的負債一直在上升。

    如果不提高債務上限會怎樣?

    經濟學家基本上都認為這會帶來一場災難,只是沒有人能夠確切預測會出現什么樣的情況。一位前政府雇員曾經對《財富》雜志打比方說,那就像是在問全世界的核武器一起爆炸會怎么樣。那會是人們無法理解的慘劇嗎?還是說它會消滅所有的生命呢?

    可能出現的情況之一是美元遭到擠兌,以及美元作為世界儲備貨幣走向末路,全球市場崩潰,聯邦政府債務利率將上升(同時對預算產生影響),政府工作人員和承包商以及享受社保、醫保的人有可能再也拿不到錢。簡單來說就是非常、非常糟糕。

    所以債務上限問題會得到解決?對吧。

    希望如此。大多數國會議員都不希望在這個問題上發生紛爭,特別是在說不清楚誰會因此在政治上受益的情況下。新聞報道援引特朗普總統的話說,白宮和國會負責人進行了“非常好的對話”。但以前他面對協議時就曾經突然改變過主意。

    同時,一些較保守的議員已經表示他們對削減開支的幅度不滿意,而且當前協議在財政上是不負責任的行為。達到目的前他們會試圖阻撓協議嗎?也許吧。

    時間不多了。9月30日前需要敲定預算,以便政府正常運轉。此外,除了9月初部分違約,財政部也沒有什么其他辦法了,而國會也會很快在8月休會。

    這也許一直是個熱門話題,但愿較為冷靜的頭腦能夠占據上風。(財富中文網)

    譯者:Charlie

    審校:夏林

    As Fortune noted in April, chances were good that the debt ceiling would become a hotter topic than the weather this summer.

    Finally, it's looking likely that following talks between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the parties are close to reaching a deal to extend the debt ceiling through July 2021, permanently end the sequester that can automatically cut spending, raise the combination of both domestic and military spending by $320 billion a year, and include $75 million in spending offsets to bring down net deficit spending so there's just a little less annual contribution to the national debt.

    Here's what you need to know to follow the developments.

    What is the debt ceiling?

    The debt ceiling is a tool government uses to control the amount of debt the country has. The U.S. has dealt with fluctuating debt since its inception. In the far past, Congress had to authorize borrowing by the Treasury for every need.

    In 1917—when the country was spending heavily on World War I—Congress passed a law to change debt management. The Treasury received blanket permission to undertake certain types of debt, like bonds, so long as the total stayed within set bounds. Congress expanded the concept in 1939 to cover all total U.S. debt.

    Congress has had to repeatedly increase the debt ceiling many times since then to accommodate the amount of borrowing the U.S. has undertaken.

    Why does the debt ceiling keep going up?

    There are two reasons. One is that the country keeps spending more than it takes in. The 2017 tax bill exacerbated the problem far beyond what its proponents projected, with the amount added this fiscal year (through October 2019) potentially adding another $1.4 trillion.

    The other reason is interest payments on previous debt. The U.S. periodically rolls over existing debt to keep most of the owed money outstanding. As interest rates rise, or debt grows, the country pays more total interest. As the budget watchdog Peter G. Peterson Foundation notes, interest on the debt will become the third-largest single "program" in the budget by 2025, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates.

    Why don't we end borrowing to reduce spending?

    The debt doesn't cover future spending but, instead, previous spending and financial obligations, including interest payments on the national debt.

    You can think of the national debt like a credit card account. The country plans spending and then the bills come due, including the interest. There isn't enough money coming in to cover what is due, so the government borrows. Unlike a credit card, the borrowing also occurs to cover previous credit card bills, so the amount keeps adding up.

    What would happen without a debt ceiling increase?

    Economists largely agree that this would be a disaster, although no one can predict exactly what would happen. One metaphor a former government staffer told Fortune is that it would be like asking what would happen if all the atomic weapons in the world went off at once. Would it be a tragedy beyond comprehension or, instead, would it wipe out all life?

    Some of the possible outcomes would be a run on the dollar, the end of the dollar as the world's reserve currency, global market crashes, interest rates on federal debt would raise (along with the impact on the budget), and potentially payments to government workers and contractors as well as Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid recipients could end. Let's just say it would be really, really bad.

    So, the debt ceiling will be fixed. Right?

    Hopefully. This isn't a fight most people in Congress want, especially as it isn't clear that it would benefit any of them politically. Reports quote President Trump as saying that the White House was having "very good talks" with congressional leaders. But he's suddenly changed his mind before on agreements.

    Additionally, some of the more conservative members of Congress have said they are unhappy with the level of spending cuts and that the current deal is not fiscally responsible. Might they try to block an agreement until they get what they want? Maybe.

    Time is running out. There needs to be some kind of budget deal by September 30 to keep the government open. Additionally the Treasury officially runs out of options beyond a partial default earlier in September, and Congress is quickly coming up on its August recess.

    It's may always be a hot topic, but hopefully cooler heads will prevail.

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