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How Baseball Can Help You Understand the Debt-Ceiling Talks How Baseball Can Help You Understand the Debt-Ceiling Talks

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How Baseball Can Help You Understand the Debt-Ceiling Talks


Jeremy Affeldt of the San Francisco Giants throws the ball during a workout session at AT&T Park.(Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Republicans have a new unified line on the debt ceiling: It’s not our issue to solve, it’s President Obama’s.

“This debt-limit increase is his problem,” House Speaker John Boehner told reporters on Tuesday, "and I think it’s time for him to lead by putting his plan on the table, something that Congress can pass.”


Technically, constitutionally, it’s Congress’s problem. Especially since House Republicans passed a budget this year that would, in fact, require an increase in the debt limit.

A good way to think about this—especially today, when the nation turns its eyes to the Major League Baseball All-Star Game—is like a baseball game.

In this game, Congress is the pitcher. (So says the Constitution, which makes Congress the sole appropriator of government funds.) Obama’s the catcher: He can signal for certain spending pitches, and does, in his budget every year, but Congress can always shake him off.



The pitcher on the mound just entered the game, and he inherited a runner that a previous pitcher allowed to get to third base. Let’s call this runner “The Budget Deficit."

It’s up to this pitcher—this Congress—to keep that runner from crossing home plate. If the runner scores, the game ends. Let’s call this outcome “Another Recession.”


We could stretch the metaphor here (Obama’s calling for curveballs, Republicans want to throw sliders, etc.), but really, the point is this: The pitcher has to throw the ball. Maybe he didn’t put the runner on base, but his team—his country—did, and the pitcher wants his team to win. He doesn’t want another recession.

No one in the stadium really believes the pitcher can pick the runner off third, which is to say, balance the budget immediately without having to raise the debt limit. So the pitcher and the catcher have to agree on the debt-ceiling pitch. The pitcher has to throw it and hope for the best.

The pitcher can’t just stand on the mound and blame the catcher or the previous pitcher. If he takes too long, the umpire (Financial Markets) will call a balk; runner scores. If he drops the ball and walks off the diamond, the runner scores. If the pitcher’s team loses, a whole lot of people in the crowd are going to lose their jobs. That’s not a game, and it’s not just Obama’s problem.


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