The debt ceiling is the maximum amount the U.S. government can borrow by issuing bonds.
The U.S. Treasury Department must find other ways to pay expenses when the debt ceiling is reached; otherwise, there is a risk the county will default on its debt. Since 1960, Congress has raised, extended, or revised the debt limit 78 times, and 49 of those were under Republican presidents and 29 times under a Democrat president. In recent years, raising the cap has become a political football. Since raising the debt ceiling is a so-called “must-pass” bill, both political parties use it to gain leverage for concessions.
First, House Republicans have put a solid proposal on the table. In late April, the U.S. House narrowly passed a bill that raises the debt ceiling while cutting spending by 14% over the next 10 years. It also rolled back some health and climate change mandates recently implemented by the Biden administration. It also expanded gas and oil exploration. The bill had no chance of being passed in the Democratic-controlled Senate and immediately upon its passage, Biden said he would veto it if it got to his desk.
Second, Democrats have put no proposal on the table. Their position is to just raise the ceiling — no concessions, no spending cuts. In the past, the Democrats have used the debt ceiling crisis to raise taxes on the American people, but raising taxes isn’t in this year’s playbook. With increasing inflation, they recognize raising taxes would be an unpopular move and would hurt them in the 2024 elections. Democrats instead have focused their attack on House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-California, telling him to “put the pin back in the grenade.” They anticipate the Republicans will cave to public pressure.
Third, fiscal issues are going to be the ruin of America. The federal national debt is $32 trillion — $95,000 for every man, woman and child — and growing at an accelerating pace. The federal government — both parties — spend too much money. Three years ago, a bipartisan group of 60 House members introduced HR 6139, which proposed raising the debt ceiling if government spending were reduced by just 5% over 10 years. It failed. Reasonable proposals to get spending under control are attacked as extreme. Shifting debt to future generations is irresponsible and immoral, but the federal government has been doing it for decades.
In years past, conservatives were defined by their position on fiscal issues. Conservatives today are more interested in liberty, personal freedom, and government overreach — all while the fiscal house is ablaze. Like an expanding credit card balance, the national debt continues to escalate, waiting for a responsible generation to pay it off.
Ten years ago, U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, said the debt ceiling doesn’t exist and the U.S. would not default if the limit wasn’t raised. “The debt ceiling has never not been raised, so there is no debt ceiling,” said Coburn. “Having a debt ceiling and then automatically raising it every time allows politicians off the hook for making hard choices. I am not saying we shouldn’t pay our bills. What I am saying is we should put ourselves in the position to have to make hard choices regarding spending.”
In his book, “The Debt Limit,” Coburn exhorts Americans to stop blaming lobbyists and special interests for the gridlock and obstructionism in the U.S. government. He blames citizens for not holding members of Congress — in both parties — accountable for refusing to take bold steps of action to get the government spending under control.
Until more conservatives pay attention to fiscal issues, hold elected officials accountable, and demand spending cuts, expect the “Chicken Little/Debt Ceiling” performance to keep making curtain calls.
Steve Fair is District 4 Oklahoma Republican Party chair.
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