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Hard Choices

State of the Union: Recent statements from the White House reveal that amid the debt-limit fight war is still a top spending priority.
A woman walks past a destroyed apartment building in
(Photo by Matthew Hatcher/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

As Americans anxiously await the outcome of the debt-limit fight and its implication for various government programs, there is still at least one federal service we can count on to be unfailingly provided: war.

White House officials have promised the continuation of military funding for Ukraine, regardless of spending caps implemented in a deal, Bloomberg reported Tuesday. Such assurances are no doubt welcomed by those for whom indefinite support for the war is the golden calf of the U.S. budget; for men like Senator Lindsey Graham, “it’s the best money we ever spent.” But such assurances to Ukraine also betray the spirit of prior messaging from the administration.

In her warnings to a Senate committee this March about the looming threat of a default on the debt, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen sought to discard the idea of prioritizing certain payments over others as a means of staving off catastrophe, asserting that “our systems are built to pay all of our bills on time and not to pick and choose which bills to pay.” Yet earlier this month Yellen made clear her dread about the prospect of “hard choices” where it would have to be decided “what bills go unpaid.” And at the Wall Street Journal's CEO Council Summit in London, she again warned that “Treasury and President Biden will face very tough choices if Congress doesn’t act to raise the debt ceiling.”

While the U.S. may no longer be facing an outright default in light of President Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s attempts to construct a deal, caps on the debt ceiling still inevitably involve the prioritization of certain payments over others, such as heightening work requirements for food-stamp eligibility while maintaining funding for the development of Covid vaccines. What the White House’s recent statements make clear, however, is that “hard choices” are relegated to those financial decisions concerning the fate of American families and workers.

The war machine is left unhindered, too sacred to meet the magnifying glass of fiscal scrutiny.


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