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THOMAS: Debt ceiling one not meant to be broken

One of Dictionary.com’s definitions of blackmail is ‘‘to extort money from (a person) by use of threats.’’ Substitute ‘‘taxpayers’’ for ‘‘person’’ and you have what the White House and congressional Democrats are doing with the debt ceiling.

In case you weren’t paying attention (and too few are) the United States officially reached the debt ceiling on Monday. Treasury Secretary Tim ‘‘I forgot to pay my taxes’’ Geithner informed Congress of difficult decisions he was forced to make to keep the country solvent, which is a joke. How can a country be considered solvent when just the interest on the debt amounts to more than the entire gross national product of many countries?

Among Geithner’s sleights of hand to keep America from ‘‘defaulting’’ on its loans is his suspension of payments to federal retirement funding investments until Aug. 2. Whoa, there’s a brave move! Geithner doesn’t suggest spending cutbacks. That’s because with Democrats, especially, federal spending is considered more sacred than money dropped in a church offering plate. Once it’s in, it would be a sacrilege to take it out.

The public — or at least the half of us who pay our tax bills so that the other half can take it and so politicians can keep themselves in office — ought to be awake to this scam. It makes convicted Ponzi scheme practitioner Bernie Madoff look like a piker.

A good place to start with the spending axe would be the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Washington Post on Sunday published the results of a lengthy investigation into the spending ways of this unnecessary federal agency. The expose found that ‘‘nearly 700 projects awarded $400 million appear to be stalled or abandoned. An additional 600 projects have not drawn any of the money allocated, tying up $250 million.’’

That is, or ought to be considered, disgusting. But for much of the bloated federal government, it is increasingly the norm. Two senators have promised an ‘‘investigation.’’ Don’t look for anything serious to be done. It never is. Politicians and bureaucrats protect their turf. Wrists might be slapped. Someone near — but not at — the top might even be replaced. There could be promises of ‘‘reform,’’ but in the end, HUD will remain to misspend another day, along with so many other agencies and programs that waste our money.

What is needed is a top-to-bottom review of government, beginning with a serious discussion about its purpose and the responsibility of individuals to do more for themselves.

For people not addicted to TV reality shows and the baser things in life, the founders of our country warned of what would happen if we got into too much debt. They have something to say to us across the years if we will pay attention.

Possibly the most profound remonstrance concerning debt came from Thomas Jefferson, who said, ‘‘I place economy among the first and most important virtues, and public debt as the greatest of dangers to be feared. To preserve our independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. If we run into such debts, we must be taxed in our meat and drink, in our necessities and in our comforts, in our labor and in our amusements. If we can prevent the government from wasting the labor of the people, under the pretense of caring for them, they will be happy.’’

Has this no meaning in 2011? Of course it does. Wisdom is not bound by centuries, but people must act on wisdom before it can work its magic.

Manipulating federal retirement investments is not a serious response to having reached the debt ceiling. Calling a ‘‘contractor’’ to lower the ceiling by reducing debt would be serious. Are there enough serious people to do the necessary budget-cutting work in Washington?

Commenting on the debt ceiling having been reached, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said it ‘‘further highlights the failed leadership and reckless spending that has our country heading toward a Greece-like day of reckoning. We are better than that.’’

Are we?

Email nationally syndicated columnist Cal Thomas at tmseditors@tribune.com. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/calthomas.