Congressman Alan Grayson:
This wouldn’t solve the debt problem entirely. The Federal Reserve doesn’t own all U.S. government debt; it owns only roughly $2 trillion of it. (Well $2,076,927,000,000.00, as of last Wednesday, but who’s counting?)
Yet canceling this debt would give the government substantial room under the debt ceiling to manage its finances. It would end the debt ceiling standoff in Congress, and it would prevent a default.
The debt held on the balance sheet of the Federal Reserve can be canceled without any significant consequence, because it is a bookkeeping artifact corresponding to the money supply. In essence, the government owes this money to itself. If I owe money to myself, I can cancel that debt at will and without consequence, essentially taking it out of my left pocket and putting it in my right pocket.
Last year, the Federal Reserve declared a “profit” of roughly $91 billion, much of which came from interest payments from the U.S. Treasury. The Federal Reserve then quickly remitted nearly all of this profit right back to the U.S. Treasury.
The Federal Reserve does this every year. Reducing or eliminating this unearned “profit” actually will provide a more realistic view of federal finances.
I am a Democrat, and known as a progressive. But this idea was put forward a few years ago not by me, or by a member of my party, but by Republican Representative Ron Paul.
He thinks, as do I, that the Federal Reserve‘s dramatic expansion of its balance sheet is simply a way of financing the government by printing money. The Fed isn’t really “buying” Treasury bonds, it is just letting the government finance its deficit by adding to the money supply….
While canceling the Treasury debt held on the Federal Reserve balance sheet might be considered unorthodox, it is no more unorthodox than the quantitative easing that has added much of this debt to the Fed’s balance sheet.
While the fed “gives back” the interest on the debt it owns, as long as it claims to own any of it it can in principle take possession of underlying government assets in the event of default, so bernanke may contest this solution. It will be interesting to see the response. Will he be forced to reveal that the fed isn’t really a government entity at all? Or will he simply be allowed to stay silent? Time to call your congressman and put the issue in the foreground.