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Credit cards have a politician problem.
Of course, nobody's talking about that. Everyone's discussing Mitt Romney, and how he has been getting a lot of grief for one of his advisers making a crack about political campaigning being like an Etch-a-Sketch. But since I write a lot about credit cards, I've been thinking about how frequently politicians seem to invoke credit cards whenever they want to make a point about the state of the country's financial affairs, and it'll probably just heat up as the national election gets closer.
I have a few examples of what I mean below, and then I'll make my larger point. But because we're in the midst of a Republican primary, most of the quotes below are from Republicans, and thus, I'll let President Obama have the last word.
- "Listen, people have limits on credit cards. That doesn't mean that you're required to spend up to the limit, it just says you can't spend any more than that…[T]he agreement we came to with the President and our Democrat colleagues in the Senate last year on the Budget Control Act said that we will spend no more than [$1.047 trillion] on discretionary spending this year. It's a limit. That means it's a cap. We all know that we've got a real fiscal problem here in Washington, and frankly we think we can do better." (John Boehner, Speaker of the House, March 20)
- "Our nation's credit card is maxed out because of his administration's reckless spending." (Randy Hultgren, Republican freshman congressman from Illinois, Jan. 18)
- "How is that fiscally conservative? Mortgaging the future on our children's credit card?...That's part of the problem in Washington, D.C. Asking a Washington insider to stop runaway spending is like asking a bank robber to guard the vault." (Texas governor Rick Perry, Dec. 29, 2011)
- "In the year 2000, the government had a budget surplus, but instead of using it to pay off our debt, the money was spent on trillions of dollars in new tax cuts, while two wars and an expensive prescription drug program were simply added to our nation's credit card." (President Barack Obama, July 25, 2011)
Anyway, all of the credit card analogies that politicians use make me wonder what credit card executives think about them.
You know how whenever a personal finance expert offers a suggestion on how to budget, the first thing they say is to consider getting rid of is that $4 a day coffee habit? I've always thought that Starbucks executives probably don't appreciate that.
(Especially since personal finance experts have a point. Four bucks a day for coffee is $1,460 a year…)
Well, I figure it's kind of the same thing with the credit card industry, that it's probably not helpful to the industry for politicians to bring up credit card imagery into the mix every time they talk about the country's finances being in tatters.
I'm sure politicians mean no harm, but given how important credit cards are to the economy at large, and how many businesses they've helped to jumpstart and vacations they've allowed people to take with airline miles, maybe politicians should start thinking of a new metaphor to use when discussing tough financial times. In fact, I know the perfect item they could use to jot down some new analogies and erase and start over if they don't like what they've come up with: an Etch-a-Sketch.