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    Can A Trillion Dollar Coin Resolve the Debt Ceiling Crisis?

    The latest standoff over raising the nation’s debt ceiling is giving new life to an old theory about how to avoid a default.WASHINGTON — The debt limit standoff between Republicans and Democrats has elevated questions about creative solutions for averting a crisis, including one that at first blush might seem unthinkable: Could minting a $1 trillion platinum coin make the whole problem go away?What was once a fringe idea is now being presented to top economic policymakers as a serious remedy.Asked on Wednesday about the notion that there might be another option if Congress failed to lift the borrowing cap, Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, said there was not.“There’s only one way forward here, and that is for Congress to raise the debt ceiling so that the United States government can pay all of its obligations when due,” Mr. Powell said. “Any deviations from that path would be highly risky.”Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen was unable to avoid the debt limit crisis brewing back in the United States as she crisscrossed Africa last week and fielded queries about the coin, which she dismissed as a “gimmick.”Instead, Ms. Yellen sent two stern letters to Speaker Kevin McCarthy outlining the “extraordinary measures” she was taking to ensure the United States can keep paying its bills and urged Congress to “act promptly” to protect the nation’s full faith and credit by lifting the debt limit.President Biden told Mr. McCarthy on Wednesday that while there was room for discussion about addressing the deficit, Congress would have to pass a debt limit increase with no strings attached to avoid a financial cataclysm. Mr. Biden and Mr. McCarthy met at the White House for more than an hour in a discussion that carried high stakes, with the federal government set to exhaust its ability to pay its bills on time as early as June.But the idea of a coin still has its fair share of supporters, and they are not giving up.As political gridlock over the borrowing cap has hardened, the notion that the Treasury secretary could defuse the debt limit drama with her currency minting powers has re-emerged, including on Twitter, where the hashtag #MintTheCoin is again buzzing.Still, the feasibility of averting America’s debt crisis by minting a valuable piece of currency is far from clear. Here’s a look at origins of the coin, how it might be used and the potential consequences.A Most Extraordinary MeasureIf Congress cannot reach an agreement by early June to increase the debt limit, which was capped at $31.4 trillion in late 2021, Ms. Yellen’s ability to use government accounting tools to delay a default could soon be exhausted, and the United States would be unable to pay all of its bills on time.Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen in Zambia last month. She urged Congress to “act promptly” to protect the nation’s full faith and credit by lifting the debt limit.Fatima Hussein/Associated PressThis could cause a deep recession and potentially a financial crisis, shutting down large swaths of the economy and preventing beneficiaries of Social Security and Medicare from receiving their money. Although Ms. Yellen has the power to move funds around government accounts to delay a default, eventually the government’s coffers will run dry without the ability to raise more tax revenue or borrow more money.That’s where the coin comes in. Proponents of the idea believe Ms. Yellen could use her authority to instruct the U.S. Mint to produce a platinum coin valued at $1 trillion — or another large denomination — and deposit it with the Federal Reserve, the government’s banker, which manages the Treasury Department’s “general account.”Understand the U.S. Debt CeilingCard 1 of 5What is the debt ceiling? More

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    Biden and McCarthy Are Set to Discuss Debt Limit as Both Sides Trade Barbs

    The hours leading up to the meeting have highlighted the differences between the White House and the Republicans who now control the House.WASHINGTON — President Biden will meet with Speaker Kevin McCarthy at the White House on Wednesday afternoon for a discussion that carries high stakes: the need to raise the nation’s borrowing limit in order to avoid a financial crisis.The meeting will be the first between the two leaders since Republicans assumed control of the House and conveyed the speaker title on Mr. McCarthy after a protracted fight.Republicans have refused to raise the statutory debt limit unless Mr. Biden accepts deep cuts in federal spending. The president has said repeatedly that he expects Congress to raise the borrowing cap with no strings attached — and that he will not negotiate conditions for an increase.Wednesday’s meeting will take place behind closed doors, but the hours leading up to it have highlighted the differences between the White House and the Republicans who now control the House. On Tuesday, Mr. Biden and Mr. McCarthy blamed each other for the impasse in raising the debt ceiling. The president called the speaker a “decent man” who had caved to extremists in his party to take power.He made “commitments that are just absolutely off the wall for a speaker of the House to make,” Mr. Biden told reporters on Tuesday.Understand the U.S. Debt CeilingCard 1 of 5What is the debt ceiling? More

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    Biden Demands Details on Budget Cuts From McCarthy

    Ahead of a meeting at the White House on Wednesday, administration officials demanded that Republicans commit to avoiding a default on federal debt.WASHINGTON — President Biden will ask Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California, on Wednesday for details on what budget cuts his party is demanding in order to raise the federal debt limit and for assurances that Mr. McCarthy will not accept an economically debilitating government default, White House officials said.The demands, outlined in a memo that the White House released on Tuesday, are an attempt by Mr. Biden to force Republicans to engage in a debate over taxes, spending and debt on terms that are more favorable to the president than to newly empowered conservatives on Capitol Hill.Mr. Biden is seeking to force Mr. McCarthy to specify which programs he would cut — a list that most likely includes some spending that is popular with the public — and to calculate how much Republicans would add to the debt with additional tax cuts.In the memo, Brian Deese, the director of the National Economic Council, and Shalanda Young, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, said the president would release his annual budget on March 9 and asked when Mr. McCarthy would do the same.“It is essential that Speaker McCarthy likewise commit to releasing a budget, so that the American people can see how House Republicans plan to reduce the deficit — whether through Social Security cuts; cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Affordable Care Act health coverage; and/or cuts to research, education and public safety — as well as how much their budget will add to the deficit with tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and large corporations,” Ms. Young and Mr. Deese wrote.Understand the U.S. Debt CeilingCard 1 of 5What is the debt ceiling? More

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    Wall St. Is Counting on a Debt Limit Trick That Could Entail Trouble

    If the debt limit is breached, investors expect Treasury to put bond payments first. It’d be politically and practically fraught.Washington’s debt limit drama has Wall Street betting that the United States will employ a fallback option to ensure it can make good on payments to its lenders even if Congress doesn’t raise the nation’s borrowing limit before America runs out of cash.But that untested idea has significant flaws and has been ruled out by the Biden administration, which could make it less of a bulwark against disaster than many investors and politicians are counting on.Many on Wall Street believe that the Treasury Department, in order to avoid defaulting on U.S. debt, would “prioritize” payments on its bonds if it could no longer borrow funds to cover all its expenses. They expect that America’s lenders — the bondholders who own U.S. Treasury debt — would be first in line to receive interest and other payments, even if it meant delaying other obligations like government salaries or retirement benefits.Those assumptions are rooted in history. Records from 2011 and 2013 — the last time the U.S. tipped dangerously close to a debt limit crisis — suggested that officials at the Treasury had laid at least some groundwork to pay investors first, and that policymakers at the Federal Reserve assumed that such an approach was likely. Some Republicans in the House and Senate have painted prioritization as a fallback option that could make failure to raise the borrowing cap less of a disaster, arguing that as long as bondholders get paid, the U.S. will not experience a true default.But the Biden administration is not doing prioritization planning this time around because officials don’t think it would prevent an economic crisis and are unsure whether such a plan is even feasible. The White House has not asked Treasury to prepare for a scenario in which it pays back investors first, according to multiple officials. Janet L. Yellen, the Treasury secretary, has said such an approach would not avoid a debt “default” in the eyes of markets.“Treasury systems have all been built to pay all of our bills when they’re due and on time, and not to prioritize one form of spending over another,” Ms. Yellen told reporters this month.Perhaps more worrisome is that, even if the White House ultimately succumbed to pressure to prioritize payments, experts from both political parties who have studied the temporary fix say it might not be enough to avert a financial catastrophe.Senator Ted Cruz, center, and other Republicans during a news conference on debt ceiling on Capitol Hill last week.Haiyun Jiang/The New York Times“Prioritization is really default by another name,” said Brian Riedl, formerly chief economist to former Republican Senator Rob Portman and now an economist at the Manhattan Institute. “It’s not defaulting on the government’s debt, but it’s defaulting on its obligations.”Congress must periodically raise the nation’s debt ceiling to authorize the Treasury to borrow to cover America’s commitments. Raising the limit does not entail any new spending — it is more like paying a credit-card bill for spending the nation has already incurred — and it is often completed without incident. But Republicans have occasionally attempted to attach future spending cuts or other legislative goals to debt limit increases, plunging the United States into partisan brinkmanship.Understand the U.S. Debt CeilingCard 1 of 5What is the debt ceiling? More

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    Biden Hammers Republicans on the Economy, With Eye on 2024

    The president has found a welcome foil in a new conservative House majority and its tax and spending plans, sharpening a potential re-election message.WASHINGTON — President Biden on Thursday assailed House Republicans over their tax and spending plans, including potential changes to popular retirement programs, ahead of what is likely to be a run for re-election.In a speech in Springfield, Va., Mr. Biden sought to reframe the economic narrative away from the rapid price increases that have dogged much of his first two years in office and toward his stewardship of an economy that has churned out steady growth and strong job gains.Mr. Biden, speaking to members of a steamfitters union, sought to take credit for the strength of the labor market, moderating inflation and news from the Commerce Department on Thursday morning that the economy had grown at an annualized pace of 2.9 percent at the end of last year. In contrast, he cast House Republicans and their economic policy proposals as roadblocks to continued improvement.“At the time I was sworn in, the pandemic was raging and the economy was reeling,” Mr. Biden said before ticking through the actions he had taken to aid the recovery. Those included $1.9 trillion in pandemic and economic aid; a bipartisan bill to repair and upgrade roads, bridges, water pipes and other infrastructure; and a sweeping industrial policy bill to spur domestic investment in advanced manufacturing sectors like semiconductors and speed research and development to seed new industries.Republicans have accused the Biden administration of fanning inflation by funneling too much federal money into the economy, and have called for deep spending cuts and other fiscal changes.Mr. Biden denounced those proposals, including a plan to replace federal income taxes with a national sales tax, curb safety net spending and risk a government default by refusing to raise the federal borrowing limit without deep spending cuts. Why, he asked, “would the Americans give up the progress we’ve made for the chaos they’re suggesting?”Speaker Kevin McCarthy and House Republicans have not yet released a detailed or unified economic agenda.Haiyun Jiang/The New York Times“I will not let anyone use the full faith and credit of the United States as a bargaining chip,” Mr. Biden said, reiterating his refusal to negotiate over raising the debt limit. “The United States of America — we pay our debts.”But the president also sought to reach out to working-class voters — in places like his native Scranton, Pa. — who have increasingly voted for Republicans in recent elections. Mr. Biden said those voters had been left behind by American economic policy in recent years, and he tried to woo them back by promising that his policies would continue to bring high-paying manufacturing jobs that do not require a college degree to people who feel “invisible” in the economy.“They remember, in my old neighborhoods, why the jobs went away,” Mr. Biden said, vowing that under his policies “nobody’s left behind.”The Biden PresidencyHere’s where the president stands as the third year of his term begins.State of the Union: President Biden will deliver his second State of the Union speech on Feb. 7, at a time when he faces an aggressive House controlled by Republicans and a special counsel investigation into the possible mishandling of classified information.Chief of Staff: Mr. Biden plans to name Jeffrey D. Zients, his former coronavirus response coordinator, as his next chief of staff. Mr. Zients will replace Ron Klain, who has run the White House since the president took office two years ago.Voting Rights: A year after promising a voting rights overhaul in a fiery speech, Mr. Biden delivered a more muted message at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.The speech built on a pattern for Mr. Biden, who has found the new and narrow Republican majority to be both a political threat and an opportunity.Republicans in the chamber have begun a series of investigations into Mr. Biden, his family and his administration. They have also demanded deep cuts in federal spending in exchange for raising the borrowing limit, a position that risks an economic catastrophe given the huge sums of money that the United States borrows to pay for its financial obligations.The president has refused to tie any spending cuts to raising the debt limit and has called on Congress to increase the $31.4 trillion cap so the nation can continue paying its bills and avoid a federal default..css-1v2n82w{max-width:600px;width:calc(100% – 40px);margin-top:20px;margin-bottom:25px;height:auto;margin-left:auto;margin-right:auto;font-family:nyt-franklin;color:var(–color-content-secondary,#363636);}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-1v2n82w{margin-left:20px;margin-right:20px;}}@media only screen and (min-width:1024px){.css-1v2n82w{width:600px;}}.css-161d8zr{width:40px;margin-bottom:18px;text-align:left;margin-left:0;color:var(–color-content-primary,#121212);border:1px solid var(–color-content-primary,#121212);}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-161d8zr{width:30px;margin-bottom:15px;}}.css-tjtq43{line-height:25px;}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-tjtq43{line-height:24px;}}.css-x1k33h{font-family:nyt-cheltenham;font-size:19px;font-weight:700;line-height:25px;}.css-1hvpcve{font-size:17px;font-weight:300;line-height:25px;}.css-1hvpcve em{font-style:italic;}.css-1hvpcve strong{font-weight:bold;}.css-1hvpcve a{font-weight:500;color:var(–color-content-secondary,#363636);}.css-1c013uz{margin-top:18px;margin-bottom:22px;}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-1c013uz{font-size:14px;margin-top:15px;margin-bottom:20px;}}.css-1c013uz a{color:var(–color-signal-editorial,#326891);-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;font-weight:500;font-size:16px;}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-1c013uz a{font-size:13px;}}.css-1c013uz a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}How Times reporters cover politics. We rely on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members may vote, they are not allowed to endorse or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, any political candidate or election cause.Learn more about our process.But Mr. Biden, who is facing a divided Congress for the first time in his presidency, is increasingly acting as if the newly empowered conservatives have given him a political opening on economic policy. As he prepares for a likely re-election bid in 2024, he is seizing on the least popular proposals floated by House members to cast himself as a champion of the working class, retirees and economic progress.Mr. Biden’s speech on Thursday waded deep into policy details, including the acreage of western timber burned in fires linked to climate change, the global breakdown of advanced chip production and the average salary of new manufacturing jobs, as he recounted his legislative accomplishments.House Republicans have not yet released a detailed or unified economic agenda, and they have not made a clear set of demands for raising the debt limit, though they largely agree that Mr. Biden must accept significant spending curbs.But members and factions of the Republican conference have pushed for votes on a variety of proposals that have little support among voters, including raising the retirement age for Social Security and Medicare and replacing the federal income tax with a national sales tax.Mr. Biden has sought to brand the entire Republican Party with those proposals, even though it is not clear if the measures have majority support in the conference or will ever come to a vote. Former President Donald J. Trump, who has already announced his 2024 bid for the White House, has urged Republicans not to touch the safety-net programs. Other party leaders have urged Republicans not to rule out those cuts. “We should not draw lines in the sand or dismiss any option out of hand, but instead seriously discuss the trade-offs of proposals,” Senator Michael D. Crapo of Idaho, the top Republican on the Finance Committee, wrote in an opinion piece for Fox News, in which he called for Mr. Biden to negotiate over raising the debt limit.Representative Kevin Hern, Republican of Oklahoma, who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee, told a tax conference in Washington this week that there are “lots of problems” with the plan to replace the income tax with a so-called fair tax on consumption. Those include incentives for policymakers to allow prices to rise rapidly in the economy in order to generate more revenue from the sales tax, he noted.“Let’s just say it’s going to be very interesting,” Mr. Hern said at the D.C. Bar Taxation Community’s annual tax conference. “I haven’t found a Ways and Means member that’s for it.”Despite those internal disagreements, Mr. Biden has been happy to pick and choose unpopular Republican ideas and frame them as the true contrast to his economic agenda. He has pointedly refused to cut safety-net programs and threatened to veto such efforts.“The president is building an economy from the bottom up and the middle out, and protecting Social Security and Medicare,” Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, told reporters this week. “Republicans want to cut Social Security, want to cut Medicare — programs Americans have earned, have paid in — and impose a 30 percent national sales tax that will increase taxes on working families. That is what they have said they want to do, and that is clearly their plan.”The focus on Republicans has allowed Mr. Biden to divert the economic conversation from inflation, which hit 40-year highs last year but receded in the past several months, though it remains above historical norms. On Thursday, he chided Republicans for a vote to reduce funding for I.R.S. enforcement against wealthy tax cheats — a move the Congressional Budget Office says would add to the budget deficit, and which Mr. Biden cast as inflationary.“They campaigned on inflation,” Mr. Biden said. “They didn’t say if elected, they planned to make it worse.”Progressive groups see an opportunity for Mr. Biden to score political points and define the economic issue before the 2024 campaign begins in earnest. That is in part because polls suggest Americans have little appetite for Social Security or Medicare cuts, and have far less focus on the national debt than House Republicans do.“It is a political gift,” said Lindsay Owens, the executive director of the Groundwork Collaborative, a liberal nonprofit in Washington. More

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    Climate Change May Bring New Era of Trade Wars, as E.U. and U.S. Spar

    Countries are pursuing new solutions to try to mitigate climate change. More trade fights are likely to come hand in hand.WASHINGTON — Efforts to mitigate climate change are prompting countries across the world to embrace dramatically different policies toward industry and trade, bringing governments into conflict.These new clashes over climate policy are straining international alliances and the global trading system, hinting at a future in which policies aimed at staving off environmental catastrophe could also result in more frequent cross-border trade wars.In recent months, the United States and Europe have proposed or introduced subsidies, tariffs and other policies aimed at speeding the green energy transition. Proponents of the measures say governments must move aggressively to expand sources of cleaner energy and penalize the biggest emitters of planet-warming gases if they hope to avert a global climate disaster.But critics say these policies often put foreign countries and companies at a disadvantage, as governments subsidize their own industries or charge new tariffs on foreign products. The policies depart from a decades-long status quo in trade, in which the United States and Europe often joined forces through the World Trade Organization to try to knock down trade barriers and encourage countries to treat one another’s products more equally to boost global commerce.Now, new policies are pitting close allies against one another and widening fractures in an already fragile system of global trade governance, as countries try to contend with the existential challenge of climate change.“The climate crisis requires economic transformation at a scale and speed humanity has never attempted in our 5,000 years of written history,” said Todd N. Tucker, the director of industrial policy and trade at the Roosevelt Institute, who is an advocate for some of the measures. “Unsurprisingly, a task of this magnitude will require a new policy tool kit.”The current system of global trade funnels tens of millions of shipping containers stuffed with couches, clothing and car parts from foreign factories to the United States each year, often at astonishingly low prices. But the prices that consumers pay for these goods do not take into account the environmental harm generated by the far-off factories that make them, or by the container ships and cargo planes that carry them across the ocean.A factory in Chengde, China. U.S. officials believe they must lessen a dangerous dependence on goods from China.Fred Dufour/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesAmerican and European officials argue that more needs to be done to discourage trade in products made with more pollution or carbon emissions. And U.S. officials believe they must lessen a dangerous dependence on China in particular for the materials needed to power the green energy transition, like solar panels and electric vehicle batteries.The Biden administration is putting in place generous subsidies to encourage the production of clean energy technology in the United States, such as tax credits for consumers who buy American-made clean cars and companies building new plants for solar and wind power equipment. Both the United States and Europe are introducing taxes and tariffs aimed at encouraging less environmentally harmful ways of producing goods.Biden administration officials have expressed hopes that the climate transition could be a new opportunity for cooperation with allies. But so far, their initiatives seem to have mainly stirred controversy when the United States is already under attack for its response to recent trade rulings.The administration has publicly flouted several decisions of World Trade Organization panels that ruled against the United States in trade disputes involving national security issues. In two separate announcements in December, the Office of the United States Trade Representative said it would not change its policies to abide by W.T.O. decisions.But the biggest source of contention has been new tax credits for clean energy equipment and vehicles made in North America that were part of a sweeping climate and health policy bill that President Biden signed into law last year. European officials have called the measure a “job killer” and expressed fears they will lose out to the United States on new investments in batteries, green hydrogen, steel and other industries. In response, European Union officials began outlining their own plan this month to subsidize green energy industries — a move that critics fear will plunge the world into a costly and inefficient “subsidy war.”The United States and European Union have been searching for changes that could be made to mollify both sides before the U.S. tax-credit rules are settled in March. But the Biden administration appears to have only limited ability to change some of the law’s provisions. Members of Congress say they intentionally worded the law to benefit American manufacturing.Biden administration is putting in place subsidies to encourage the production of clean energy technology in the United States, such as tax credits for consumers who buy American-made clean cars.Brittany Greeson for The New York TimesEuropean officials have suggested that they could bring a trade case at the World Trade Organization that might be a prelude to imposing tariffs on American products in retaliation.Valdis Dombrovskis, the European commissioner for trade, said that the European Union was committed to finding solutions but that negotiations needed to make progress or the European Union would face “even stronger calls” to respond.“We need to follow the same rules of the game,” he said.Anne Krueger, a former official at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, said the potential pain of American subsidies on Japan, South Korea and allies in Europe was “enormous.”“When you discriminate in favor of American companies and against the rest of the world, you’re hurting yourself and hurting others at the same time,” said Ms. Krueger, now a senior fellow at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.But in a letter last week, a collection of prominent labor unions and environmental groups urged Mr. Biden to move forward with the plans without delays, saying outdated trade rules should not be used to undermine support for a new clean energy economy.“It’s time to end this circular firing squad where countries threaten and, if successful, weaken or repeal one another’s climate measures through trade and investment agreements,” said Melinda St. Louis, the director of the Global Trade Watch for Public Citizen, one of the groups behind the letter.Valdis Dombrovskis, the European commissioner for trade, has pressed the United States to negotiate more on its climate-related subsidies for American manufacturing.Stephanie Lecocq/EPA, via ShutterstockOther recent climate policies have also spurred controversy. In mid-December, the European Union took a major step toward a new climate-focused trade policy as it reached a preliminary agreement to impose a new carbon tariff on certain imports. The so-called carbon border adjustment mechanism would apply to products from all countries that failed to take strict actions to cut their greenhouse gas emissions.The move is aimed at ensuring that European companies that must follow strict environmental regulations are not put at a disadvantage to competitors in countries where laxer environmental rules allow companies to produce and sell goods more cheaply. While European officials argue that their policy complies with global trade rules in a way that U.S. clean energy subsidies do not, it has still rankled countries like China and Turkey.The Biden administration has also been trying to create an international group that would impose tariffs on steel and aluminum from countries with laxer environmental policies. In December, it sent the European Union a brief initial proposal for such a trade arrangement.The idea still has a long way to go to be realized. But even as it would break new ground in addressing climate change, the approach may also end up aggravating allies like Canada, Mexico, Brazil and South Korea, which together provided more than half of America’s foreign steel last year.Under the initial proposal, these countries would theoretically have to produce steel as cleanly as the United States and Europe, or face tariffs on their products.A steel plant in Belgium. Under the initial proposal, countries would theoretically have to produce steel as cleanly as the United States and Europe, or face tariffs.Kevin Faingnaert for The New York TimesProponents of new climate-focused trade measures say discriminating against foreign products, and goods made with greater carbon emissions, is exactly what governments need to build up clean energy industries and address climate change.“You really do need to rethink some of the fundamentals of the system,” said Ilana Solomon, an independent trade consultant who previously worked with the Sierra Club.Ms. Solomon and others have proposed a “climate peace clause,” under which governments would commit to refrain from using the World Trade Organization and other trade agreements to challenge one another’s climate policies for 10 years.“The complete legitimacy of the global trading system has never been more in question,” she said.In the United States, support appears to be growing among both Republicans and Democrats for more nationalist policies that would encourage domestic production and discourage imports of dirtier goods — but that would also most likely violate World Trade Organization rules.Most Republicans do not support the idea of a national price on carbon. But they have shown more willingness to raise tariffs on foreign products that are made in environmentally damaging ways, which they see as a way to protect American jobs from foreign competition.Robert E. Lighthizer, a chief trade negotiator for the Trump administration, said there was “great overlap” between Republicans and Democrats on the idea of using trade tools to discourage imports of polluting products from abroad.“I’m coming at it to get more American employed and with higher wages,” he said. “You shouldn’t be able to get an economic advantage over some guy working in Detroit, trying to support his family, from pollution, by manufacturing overseas.” More

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    How the U.S. Government Amassed $31 Trillion in Debt

    Two decades of tax cuts, recession responses and bipartisan spending fueled more borrowing — contributing $25 trillion to the total and setting the stage for another federal showdown.WASHINGTON — America’s debt is now six times what it was at the start of the 21st century. It is the largest it has been, compared with the size of the U.S. economy, since World War II, and it’s projected to grow an average of about $1.3 trillion a year for the next decade.The United States hit its $31.4 trillion legal limit on borrowing this past week, putting Washington on the brink of another fiscal showdown. Republicans are refusing to raise that limit unless President Biden agrees to steep spending cuts, echoing a partisan standoff that has played out multiple times in the last two decades.But America’s ballooning debt is the result of choices made by both Republicans and Democrats. Since 2000, politicians from both parties have made a habit of borrowing money to finance wars, tax cuts, expanded federal spending, care for baby boomers and emergency measures to help the nation endure two debilitating recessions.“There have been bipartisan tax cuts and bipartisan spending increases” driving that growth, said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and perhaps the pre-eminent deficit hawk in Washington. “It’s not the simple story of Republicans cut taxes and Democrats grow spending. Actually, they all like to do all of it.”Few economists believe the level of debt is an economic crisis at the moment, though some believe the federal government has become so large that it is taking the place of private businesses, hurting growth in the process. But economists in Washington and on Wall Street are warning that failing to raise the debt limit before the government begins shirking its bills — as early as June — could prove catastrophic.Despite all the fighting, lawmakers have taken few steps to reduce the federal budget deficit they have produced. It has been nearly a quarter-century since the last time the government spent less than it received in taxes.Because spending programs today are so politically popular, and because retiring baby boomers are driving up the cost of programs like Social Security and Medicare every year, budget experts say it is unrealistic to expect the books to balance again for another decade or more.The White House estimates that borrowed money will be necessary to cover about one-fifth of a $6 trillion federal budget this fiscal year — a budget that includes military spending, the national parks, safety net programs and everything else the government provides.In just two decades, America has added $25 trillion in debt. How it got itself into this fiscal position has its roots in a political miscalculation at the end of the Cold War.President Lyndon B. Johnson signing Medicare into law in 1965. In part because of the popularity and rising costs of programs like Medicare, federal deficits are expected to continue for at least a decade.Associated PressIn the 1990s, America reaped a so-called peace dividend. It reduced spending on the military, believing it would never have to invest as much in national security as it had when the Soviet Union was a threat. At the same time, a dot-com boom delivered the highest federal tax receipts, as a share of the economy, in several decades.Understand the U.S. Debt CeilingCard 1 of 5What is the debt ceiling? More

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    The U.S. Hit Its Debt Limit. What Happens Next?

    The Treasury Department has started employing “extraordinary measures,” but the path to raising the debt ceiling is likely to be a long one.The United States hit a limit this week on how much money it can borrow, forcing the Treasury Department to initiate so-called extraordinary measures to make sure the nation has enough cash to fulfill its financial obligations.Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen has told lawmakers that those measures will allow the United States to keep paying military salaries, retiree benefits and interest to bondholders through at least early June.But initiating those extraordinary measures is just the first step in a series of moves that will take place as the Treasury tries to keep the United States from defaulting on its debt. Ultimately, it will be up to Congress to decide whether to let the country borrow more money or allow it to default on its debt by failing to pay investors who expect interest and other payments.At stake is the fate of the U.S. economy, which could face a financial crisis and fall into a deep recession if lawmakers cannot reach an agreement.Among the looming questions is when the United States will hit the so-called X-date — the point at which the government can no longer find creative ways to stay beneath the $31.4 trillion debt limit and will need to borrow more money or fail to pay its bills.The other big question: Will Congress agree to raise the borrowing cap?So far, House Republicans have vowed to oppose any increase in the debt limit without spending cuts. President Biden has said the debt limit needs to be raised without conditions. That has set up what could be a protracted fight to ensure that the United States does not default on its debt.Here are some of the key moments to expect over the next few months.A Spring Budget BattleThe White House is expected to unveil its annual budget proposal in early March, outlining Mr. Biden’s spending priorities. That could serve as an opening bid for any negotiations between the Biden administration and Republicans in Congress, who have been calling for spending cuts and are likely to seize on this document as evidence of what they say is “runaway spending.”Understand the U.S. Debt CeilingCard 1 of 5What is the debt ceiling? More