“A Debt Ceiling primer”
Having procrastinated until the very last minute, Congress finally did address the “fiscal cliff,” although in a short-term and unsatisfactory manner. Now, the country faces another crisis of Washington’s making – the nation’s debt ceiling.
Let’s be very clear – raising the debt ceiling has absolutely nothing to do with spending. Congress already voted to spend the money. Raising the debt ceiling merely allows the country to borrow money to pay bills already incurred. And that we must do. As President Obama said recently, “The issue here is whether or not America pays its bills. We are not a deadbeat nation.”
So what do Republican lawmakers say about the debt ceiling?
• Speaker John Boehner: Failure to raise the debt ceiling "would be a financial disaster, not only for our country but for the worldwide economy."
• Paul Ryan: "Obviously, you can’t default. You can't not raise the debt ceiling."
• Lindsey Graham: "Let me tell you what's involved if we don't lift the debt ceiling: financial collapse and calamity throughout the world.”
Now, GOP leaders threaten to hold hostage the nation’s ability to pay its bills. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell boasted in August 2011, "I think some of our members may have thought the default issue was a hostage you might take a chance at shooting," he said. "Most of us didn't think that. What we did learn is this – it's a hostage that's worth ransoming."
It’s that kind of talk that cost the U.S. its AAA credit rating. A Standard & Poor's director said that one reason the United States lost its AAA rating was that several lawmakers expressed skepticism publicly about the serious consequences of a credit default. The senior director said the stability and effectiveness of American political institutions were undermined by the fact that "people in the political arena were even talking about a potential default.
That a country even has such voices, albeit a minority, is something notable," he added. "This kind of rhetoric is not common amongst AAA sovereigns."
Obviously, Congress must raise the debt ceiling. Republicans know it. When George W. Bush sat in the Oval Office, GOP leaders voted to raise the debt ceiling seven times. Those votes were necessary because of Bush’s evisceration of the Clinton surplus, two unfunded wars, two rounds of tax cuts, the unpaid-for Medicare prescription drug benefit, and the TARP bank bailout. Ronald Reagan presided over 17 debt ceiling hikes and a tripling of the national debt during his eight years in office.
It appears the GOP has a different set of rules when a Democrat is in the White House. We’ll soon see whether the GOP can put country first.
Celia Murray is a member of the Morgan County Democratic Committee.
Printed in the January 24, 2013 edition.