Congress Should Plug the Holes Before It Raises the Roof | Citizens Against Government Waste

Congress Should Plug the Holes Before It Raises the Roof

The WasteWatcher

As high levels of federal spending persist, the nation is on pace to reach its statutory $14.294 trillion debt limit in mid-May. Debates over whether or not to raise the debt ceiling as well as whether or not to attach provisions to reduce the deficit and debt have ensued. Scare tactics are being employed to compel members of Congress to vote for another increase, or else experience “catastrophic economic consequences” and default on the national debt. Lawmakers face a major dilemma and are gearing up for a fight when Congress reconvenes after the Easter recess.

Both Democrats and Republicans have blindly supported a debt limit increase when it was politically expedient for them to do so. Republicans supported a debt ceiling increase when they controlled both the White House and Congress in 2003, 2004, and 2006, while Democrats were responsible for the increases in 2009 and 2010 when they controlled both branches. In 2002 and 2007 when there was split control, the votes between Democrats and Republicans were also divided.

The debt ceiling votes make for great political theater: a chance for the minority party to castigate the majority for its lack of fiscal responsibility and willingness to grow the national debt. In 2006, Barack Obama, then-senator from Illinois, voted against increasing the debt ceiling increase, claiming a vote in its favor amounted to a “leadership failure.” President Obama, who is now pleading with Congress to increase the debt limit, has now backtracked, calling his 2006 vote “a mistake.”

Both parties are at fault for their reckless game-playing and flip-flopping that got the nation into this $14.3 trillion mess. While each side has taken the lead in raising the debt limit, neither has insisted on passing a balanced budget, implementing spending caps with teeth or making substantial cuts that would instill some confidence in taxpayers and reduce the need for subsequent increases… until now.

The issue has finally reached a boiling point this year, as taxpayers can no longer stomach watching their hard-earned dollars frivolled away like monopoly money as the national debt increases by a staggering $4 billion a day. An April 2011 CBS News/New York Times poll shows that 63 percent of Americans oppose raising the debt limit. In fact, taxpayers are so inflamed over this issue that seven out of every ten people who oppose raising the debt limit stand by that position even if it means that interest rates will go up.

Nevertheless, most lawmakers recognize the global implications of failing to raise the debt limit and hope to reach an agreement that includes significant debt-cutting measures before time runs out. Even budget hawk Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) has acknowledged, “You can’t not raise the debt ceiling.” Vice President Joe Biden plans to convene a select group of House and Senate leaders starting on May 5 to begin negotiations.

Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), however, has noted that a refusal to raise the debt ceiling would not be “catastrophic”; the U.S. Treasury could still pay the interest on the country’s loans even if the limit is not extended. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that fiscal year 2012 tax revenues are projected to cover 70 percent of all government expenditures. Seven percent of projected federal expenditures will go toward interest on the debt. That means the federal government brings in 10 times the amount needed to cover the nation’s debt obligations.

Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) recently introduced S. 163, the Full Faith and Credit Act, which would require the Treasury to make interest payments on the debt its first priority in the event that the debt ceiling is not raised. The Full Faith and Credit Act would ensure the nation makes good on its debt obligations first and foremost.

House and Senate Republicans have also offered a balanced budget amendment. This proposed constitutional amendment would ensure that total outlays will not be allowed to exceed 18 percent of the U.S. GDP of a fiscal year and would require the president to submit a balanced budget to Congress that reflects the cap. Washington has continually put taxpayers at risk by violating a Budgeting 101 rule of thumb: Don’t spending more money than you take in. The balanced budget amendment, which has been lauded by fiscal conservatives, is likely to be used as a bargaining chip in the debt ceiling debates.

If the debt ceiling is not raised, the nation may be able to avoid debt default, but it will not be able to escape the drastic spending cuts necessary to fill the budget hole. CAGW’s Prime Cuts 2010 provides 763 recommendations that would save taxpayers $350 billion in the first year and $2.2 trillion over five years. There is no shortage of places to cut waste and no deficit of ideas to balance the nation’s budget and prioritize government spending. Members of Congress must work toward implementing reforms now and insist that any increase in the nation’s debt limit be coupled with substantial and enforceable debt reduction measures.

-- Erica Gordon

Sign Up For Email Updates

Optional Member Code