Tangent: On the Debt Crisis

I have posted this note to facebook and twitter, and I want you to read it too.

Dear friends,

When I first heard people talking about the debt crisis, I shrugged it off.  Like many people I know, I’ve grown tired of hearing about all the ways our leaders have not met our nation’s needs.  To me, it was just one more tally on our government’s scoreboard of failure.  However, I was curious.  I wondered what the fuss was all about, what exactly was going to happen if America was unable to pay its bills.  Knowing that the reality of any issue is never clear from one perspective alone, I began to read as many articles on the subject as I could from as many different perspectives as I could find.  And the reality of the debt crisis shocked me.

The reality is this:  if the people we elected to represent our interests in Congress cannot find a way to keep America’s bills paid, every American will suffer.  Those who rely on federal aid will find themselves unable to pay their own bills.  Interest rates on everything from credit cards to student loans will climb.  State governments, many of whose budgets include large amounts of federal money, will find themselves tumbling even further into the red.  This will ultimately mean more strain on Americans that are already struggling.

But I’m afraid those projected outcomes are too vague.  Even though President Obama explained all of this in his national address earlier this evening, I know there are many people (especially a number of Republicans in Congress) who still do not truly understand what a default would mean for American families, just as I didn’t know before this weekend.  So, in order to illuminate any doubts or uncertainties my peers may have about the immensity of the problem we face, I offer my own personal reality.  I want to explain what would happen to my family if Congress cannot find a way to solve this problem.

My mother, my father, my stepfather, and my grandparents all rely on Social Security benefits as their primary source of income.  My grandfather also receives a pension check that the government guaranteed he would get after the steel mill he worked in for more than thirty years went bankrupt.  My mom and stepdad are disabled due to medical conditions and are unable to work.  My father is mentally disabled and can only work certain low-wage jobs.  As it is, my loved ones are already living government check to government check, barely scraping by.  If America defaults, my family members will not be able to pay their rent or afford groceries.  My mother, my father, my stepfather, my grandparents, and my six year-old brother will starve if Republicans continue to refuse to compromise.  I myself am currently tens of thousands of dollars in debt to the federal government due to the direct loans I used to finance my college education.  If America defaults, the interest rates on my loans will jump, perhaps high enough to add years to my already decade-long repayment schedule (and I am a fortunate graduate - others may need twenty years or more to repay their loans).  And because I opted to work part-time while going to school full-time so that I did not have to accrue more debt, I sacrificed many career development opportunities that have left me unable to find a decent job with my Bachelor’s degree.  If America defaults and the economy stalls, my difficulty in finding a job will only multiply and I will be unable to provide for my loved ones at all.

The reality of the debt crisis is that if Republicans refuse to compromise, they will personally cause the complete destruction of my family and our well-being - and we will not be the only family destroyed.

I am furiously angry that the people who were elected to represent America’s interests would potentially allow the total devastation of American families like mine instead of backing down on their unreasonable demands for a so-called "cut, cap, and balance" solution to this crisis.  It is clear that serious reforms in many programs are needed in order to keep America’s debt from spiraling out of control, but this is not the time for irresponsible rigidity on that point.  I believe that the Republicans have been offered a solution that is as fair and balanced as possible given the current situation.  That solution, which requires the end of tax breaks for people who earn more than $250,000 per year, spreads the fallout of America’s financial acrobatics across the income board instead of concentrating the damage on those whose lives it would obliterate.

In response to President Obama, Speaker Boehner said that if the government is spending more money than it takes in, it needs to spend less of it.  That is only half the answer – the other half is increasing income.  As my family and others know all too well, it isn’t always enough to stop spending; sometimes you have to get a second job.  What the American people need is not a frightening and unwarranted stalemate in Congress.  We need for Republicans to be the leaders they were elected to be.  Right now, that means embracing sacrifice, just as so many of their constituents have to do every day of their lives.

If you find the impending ruin of American families at the hands of a few self-absorbed politicians with poor judgment and bad timing as offensive and disturbing as I do, I urge you to stand with me and do something about it.  I believe that we can make a difference if we try, and that if we don’t make an effort we are failing ourselves and each other.  Write letters, make phone calls, beat on your representative’s door.  Attack them with the strength of your voice until they have no choice but to hear your indignation.  Do not be apathetic, because democracy only works when citizens are engaged. Your inaction will let that group of Republicans keep their jobs.  But, if we all stand together and refuse to let them play ultimatum with our lives, they will soon know exactly what it feels like to be out of work, in debt, and out of hope.

 If there is a right time to act, it’s now.  Please try to make your voice heard, even if a default may not affect you the way it will affect me.  My mom, dad, stepdad, grandparents, and baby brother would greatly appreciate it.  And so would I.

With love,


  1. This is beautifully written, Erika! You've explained the economic crisis in words I can understand :) These are scary times...I hope our politicians do the best thing for this country!

  2. It is scary and while we dont share the same country, if the States is in as much trouble as people are saying they are, me and my fellow Canadians could suffer too. It's definitely scary and I hope Obama and his government can get the country out of the debt that he acquired. Well written Erika!


Please leave me a comment - I'd love to hear what you have to say!