We Can't Stop Debt Ceiling Brinksmanship... But We Could Make It A Show
Issue #22 of The Two But Rule
Summer is almost here, and it’s debt ceiling brinksmanship season in Washington. This year looks like a real show-stopper. (Keep reading, because the “show” thing is going to come up later, and I think you’re going to enjoy where this is going.)
Congress Fails To Embrace Its But
You’d think that a legislative body composed of two houses would inherently embrace the notion of the two-but rule. You’d think that for every proposal or bill, there would be a lot of momentum thinking going on. A lot of “but that won’t work…BUT it would if” conversations. Maybe on a good day this really does happen—at least among staffers off camera. Usually, though, what we see is a lot of one-butism: Circular arguments that go nowhere and result in combatants just repeating talking points until we all start to contemplate the merits of anarchy.
I’ve been looking into classic cases of Congress getting stuck in circular arguments to include in the manuscript of my upcoming book… Oh! Yeah! Just signed the contract with a major publishing house to write the book on Momentum Thinking. Yep…a whole book about buts. Stay tuned for updates as we go.
Anyway, so I was doing some background research on endless circular arguments in Congress with my buddy, ChatGPT this week, and we started talking about the debt ceiling “crisis.”
I’ve included the full transcript of that conversation below for paid subscribers. So…yeah…you should definitely do that. I mean, my birthday’s coming up, and you know…I haven’t received a gift from you in a long time, and this would be…well, taking out a subscription would be a lovely gift, don’t you think? ;)
(Just kidding…though if you’d like to subscribe for whatever you can afford, check out the special subscriber offers page.)
Here are some US debt limit highlights:
I’m not going to go into the whole backstory about what the debt ceiling is, how it came to be a thing, or why we seem perennially compelled to play financial Russian roulette with it. But for a sizzling account of the history, check out Debt Limit Through The Years by the Bipartisan Policy Center. It’s a page-turner.
1939: The first US debt ceiling is set at $45 billion.
1957: Congress waits six months to approve a new debt limit as a way to force the Eisenhower administration to constrain defense spending.
1979: After nearly causing a default, Congress approves the “Gephardt Rule” to allow budget resolutions to increase the debt ceiling without a special vote.
1982: The federal debt limit is codified into law and later increased to $2.1 trillion.
1982-Now: The debt limit increases 39, with multiple cases of partisan brinksmanship taking the US close to default. It now stands at over $31 trillion.
Why Is Debt Ceiling Brinksmanship Still A Thing?
Here’s the strange thing about the debt ceiling. If you’ve listened to any sitting President during any of these made-up and unnecessary crises, raising the debt limit is about paying for things we’ve already bought. It’s about paying the minimum fee on the national credit card, so to speak.
But whichever party is in the minority at the time of this otherwise pretty straightforward decision to cover our debts tends to use the moment to get really serious about how we’re spending too much…or at least spending too much on the things they don’t think we should be spending on.
Why don’t they get serious during the normal budget process and avoid spending more than the previous limit allows or simply agree to raise limits then? Well, one big reason is this:
The US defaulting on its debt would throw the world into financial armageddon, and that makes for good TV.
It’s a chance for the opposition to get a ton of air time and attention on the spending issues they care about.
The problem is that this clown show has already resulted in taking things too far, even once causing the United States credit rating to be downgraded. And this year, there’s speculation that some in Congress actually want the US to default in order to continue tearing down the institutions they’ve apparently decided are too corrupt to salvage. Scary.
But We Could Avoid All This By…
I asked ChatGPT about how we might avoid all this.
I also asked some humans—they’re still marginally useful and will make excellent companions in the very nice cage ChatGPT is building for me.
We came up with the usual suspects—from bipartisan budget reform to public education, tying debt ceiling increases directly to spending decisions, and encouraging more cooperation through campaign finance reform.
The full transcript covers several iterations of applying the two-but rule to these and other ideas, but the net is that nothing seemed to address the deep motivation of getting eyeballs for the opposition. So we dug deeper on that specifically, which led to ideas about getting more media attention on fiscal debates and town halls, creating a “fiscal responsibility award,” and various forms of media partnerships.
But none of these were likely to get congress members the level of focused media attention that they’re enjoying now from the debt ceiling drama.
BUT, it struck us that maybe we could add some sizzle if we applied some of the techniques of reality TV shows, including shows like American Idol…maybe even have viewers donate to congressional campaigns based on who “won” a given issue. #2Buts.
But we quickly identified problems with that, including the fact that reality TV thrives on polarizing behavior that wouldn’t help get to positive budget results, these budget negotiations are often confidential, and people might vote and donate along purely party lines regardless of the merits of the arguments.
BUT, we figured we could solve those issues by including tricks employed by the show The Masked Singer in order to hide party affiliations. We even thought of producing the whole show from generative AI based on congress member texts in order to avoid taxing their limited acting chops. #SoManyButs.
It’s A Show!
And then…it all came together. It struck me that we could use wanna-be congressional interns and use follow-cam footage and other techniques to create drama. ChatGPT obliged with a complete Netflix showrunner’s proposal. Yeah, no kidding!
And so, we humbly present for your consideration: Budget Wars!
Title: Budget Wars
Format: Reality TV/Political Drama
Logline: Future political leaders confront the drama and complexity of fiscal policy, embodying the roles of anonymous Congress members in a riveting blend of competition, debate, and behind-the-scenes action.
Episodes: 12 episodes, 60 minutes each
In Budget Wars, young, ambitious congressional intern candidates are plunged into the heart of American fiscal policy, representing anonymous Congress members. The show blends traditional debate with personalized narrative arcs, backstage coaching, and real-world interactions, culminating in an audience vote that supports the party's campaign fund of choice.
Intern Proxy Proposal Presentation (10 minutes): Intern candidates, coached by industry experts, present fiscal policy proposals on behalf of anonymous Congress members.
Backstage Coaching and Comments (10 minutes): America's Got Talent-style backstage footage shows experts providing feedback and strategy advice, interspersed with contestants' reactions and reflections.
Intern Proxy Counter-Proposal and Debate (20 minutes): Interns critique and improve upon the proposals, with audience voting opening at the conclusion of this segment.
Follow-Cam Action (15 minutes): We follow contestants around Washington, providing a glimpse into their interactions, challenges, and breakthroughs. This segment captures the drama and personal journey of each contestant, serving as a compelling narrative thread throughout the series.
Results and Reveal (5 minutes): Votes are tallied, the winning team is announced, and the real Congress members are revealed. The audience can then choose to contribute to the RNC or DNC in honor of the winning team.
Unique Selling Points:
Engagement and Education: Budget Wars provides a unique and engaging approach to understanding fiscal policy, bringing viewers closer to the political process.
Youth Perspective: The show brings a fresh perspective to politics by showcasing the viewpoints and journeys of young intern candidates.
Interactivity: Audience voting and the opportunity to contribute to campaign funds make the show a participatory experience.
Target Audience: Politically-engaged viewers of all ages, as well as fans of reality competition shows and political dramas.
Marketing Strategy: Social media engagement, behind-the-scenes content, and expert commentary to maintain viewer interest and deepen understanding of fiscal policy.
Potential Challenges: Balancing the complexity of fiscal policy with engaging storytelling, ensuring accurate representation of the representatives' views, managing the ethical implications of the competition and donation aspects.
Conclusion: Budget Wars is a unique and compelling blend of political debate, reality competition, and personal drama. By humanizing the complex world of fiscal policy, the show promises to be a standout addition to any network's lineup.
It’s The Journey
Did we solve the budget crisis and end congressional brinksmanship for all time with a reality TV show? No, probably not.
But Momentum Thinking isn’t always about directly solving the problem you set out to address. It’s about using that problem as the starting point of a journey and seeing where it takes you.
Now…who is going to produce this show?!? (No…seriously. Budget Wars is must-see TV.)
Below is the full transcript of my conversation with ChatGPT4 that starts with listing several perennial circular debates in the US Congress and ends, somehow, with several iterations of a GPT-generated showrunner’s pitch for a new Reality TV show: Budget Wars!
I’m making the transcript available to paid subscribers below:
Don’t forget: Now you can select a subscription for whatever price you can afford by using the links on the Special Offers Page.
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