Raising debt ceiling no longer on autopilot

There is a simple brilliance to John Boehner’s position on the federal debt ceiling.

The House speaker warned last week that Republicans in his chamber won’t vote to raise the ceiling beyond the current $14.3 trillion without a greater amount of spending cuts. That is, a $2 trillion increase in borrowing authority — what the Obama administration says it needs to make it through the rest of this fiscal year and the next one — would require spending cuts of more than $2 trillion in the near future (defined in some news reports as the next five years).

The brilliance isn’t in the numbers. Think about it for even a moment, and you’ll quickly realize that cutting spending at just one-fifth the rate of new borrowing is inadequate. It’s really the very least Congress could do, given the persistent trillion-dollar deficits fueling our debt crisis.

No, the brilliance lies in the creation of a political price for new deficits and debt.

A debt ceiling that can be lifted at any time, for any reason, with no more effort than any other act of Congress, is worthless. Actually, it’s worse than worthless, because it gives a false impression that restraint really does exist.

If you need evidence of its ineffectiveness, consider that the limit has gone up 10 times in the past 15 years, during which time the national debt has almost tripled. There’s been no cost to politicians, only to future taxpayers.

Enter Boehner’s stand.

It would represent, for the first time in a generation, a policy that forces lawmakers to reduce the burden on “our children and grandchildren” rather than merely invoking them as an applause line.

If the dollar amounts are in the trillions, it would almost certainly require Washington to confront the unsustainable entitlements that threaten younger generations’ ability to provide for themselves and their families — both during and after their working years.

In other words, it could be the beginning of a policy of not “kicking the can down the road,” to borrow the phrase President Barack Obama uses often, even if each one of his budget plans so far has kicked like an angry mule.

Here’s the political price: Members of Congress would have to explain to voters why more deficit spending this year was worth reduced services for several years into the future. No more raising the ceiling, adding to the debt and pretending that someone else, a long time from now, will foot the bill.

And if, as I hope, such a tradeoff sets a precedent for subsequent ceiling increases, lawmakers would have to repeat the exercise after next year — when, as I also hope, an economic recovery brings tax revenues back up to their historical average.

Not only is this debt-ceiling quid pro quo insufficient, but the spending cuts could be overruled or rendered meaningless by new spending in later years. We can’t afford that.

To that end, Boehner’s debt-ceiling approach would go well with a cap on all federal spending, keeping it below a certain proportion of the gross domestic product. Republicans have several proposals for a spending cap, an idea that was also endorsed by Obama’s own bipartisan fiscal commission.

But here’s the really brilliant thing, from the perspective of a taxpayer and young parent: Washington is finally debating how best, and deep, to cut spending rather than increase it. That’s a necessary first step on the long road ahead of us.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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136 comments Add your comment

Linda

May 13th, 2011
7:02 pm

Kyle, do us proud tonight at the GOP Convention!

GDRLA

May 13th, 2011
7:22 pm

I have been watching this debt ceiling/deficit issue for over 40 years now – Why is it that Republican presidents (Reagan, & 2 Bushes) can state that deficits no longer matter & fight wars on fiat money but Democratic presidents are reckless and fiscally irresponsible when they want to spend $$ on people? If we really want to get serious, why not stop the wars being fought on credit? Why not eliminate the big oil tax breaks and subsidies? Why not eliminate agricultural subsidies & stop the duplicate jet engine power plant program (which happens to be based in Boehner’s district)?

Yes, we do need to get our spending under control but it needs to be a rational, equally painful impact to ALL Americans – both big business, Joe the Plumber, etc. We should all bleed equally. I would believe the Tea Party idiots if they were somewhat grounded in reality as well as Boehner IF he would allow a reduction (or outright elimination) of that duplicate program.

Michael H. Smith

May 13th, 2011
7:46 pm

A debt ceiling that can be lifted at any time, for any reason, with no more effort than any other act of Congress, is worthless. Actually, it’s worse than worthless, because it gives a false impression that restraint really does exist.

And no act of one Congress is binding upon another Congress, so that why it is real important to pass and ratify a “Balanced Budget Amendment”. Constitutional amendments are binding from one Congress to any other Congress thereafter and upon all Presidents. Speaker Boehner and House Republicans should pass a balanced budget amendment (that only allows deficit spending in cases of war and disasters) if for no other reason than to go on record, which will no doubt forevermore mark the Democrats as the fiscally irresponsible party of record.

Raising Cain and waiting on Daniels to announce.

Go Tea Party!

Michael H. Smith

May 13th, 2011
8:00 pm

Why is it that Democrats who are always the most culpable for getting this country into wars, as they did in the last century, now as they have in Libya, then blame the Republicans for their damn warmongering and financing of those wars with the national credit card !?

worthington

May 13th, 2011
8:42 pm

bush is the ultimate chicken hawk with daddy’s amex.

Linda

May 13th, 2011
8:43 pm

GDRLA@7:22, Budget deficits do matter but are insignificant after the fiscal year. Budgets are merely projections/estimates made at the beginning of a fiscal year & anything can happen to skew them. Once the fiscal year is over, it is the debt that matters. Democrats hail Clinton for having a budget surplus, but his adm. added to the natl. debt each year he was in office.
Bush spent too much money & added to the natl. debt, but Obama added almost as much in 2 yrs. as Bush did in 8 yrs. I’ll cite sites from the Treasury Dept. if you like.
There is NO more money to be spent on people. This year, the fed. govt. will spend $3.7 T & will take in $2.2 T. The revenue will be entirely consumed by entitlements & the interest on the debt.
The tax credits for oil companies amount to what the US spends in about 2 days. The debate is nothing more than a show. It’s a bucket of water in the ocean. All subsidies need to stop. We give foreign aid to every country in the world except for 3.

marge

May 13th, 2011
8:46 pm

linda,

you make a compelling argument for resetting the tax code at Clinton levels.

Linda

May 13th, 2011
9:02 pm

marge@8:46, The political parties in the White House, the Senate & the House of Representatives have changed over the years, as well as the marginal tax brackets which were as high as 90% when JFK came into office. What has not changed is the fact that the natl. debt has increased every single solitary year since 1948, according to the Treas. Dept.

http://www.treasurydirect.gov/govt/reports/pd/histdebt/histdebt_histo4.htm

Every party & every White House & every congress for the past 63 yrs. has had a spending problem. I see no reason to give them more money to spend until they recognize their addiction to spending & correct it.

Clinton recognized that raising taxes on those who could afford yachts penalized carpenters, etc. who built yachts.

Lil' Barry Bailout

May 13th, 2011
9:14 pm

[T]he brilliance lies in the creation of a political price for new deficits and debt.
—————–

Yep. Boehner has outfoxed the Idiot Messiah. The adults have arrived and the Democrat spendfest is going to end. Ironically, it may help Obozo with his re-election, as he always takes credit for the hard work of others, but the GOP is determined to do what’s best for America.

Lil' Barry Bailout

May 13th, 2011
9:15 pm

marge: you make a compelling argument for resetting the tax code at Clinton levels.
—————-

Reset spending at Clinton levels and you’ve got yourself a deal.

It’s the spending, stupid.

Lil' Barry Bailout

May 13th, 2011
9:20 pm

Not raising the ceiling = de facto balanced budget amendment.

No need to default on the debt, either…continue to make the interest payments and cut the parasite maintenance programs. Oh, and if it will make the idiotarians feel any better, we’ll end the $4 billion in tax cuts for the oil companies, as if that will solve the Idiot Messiah’s $1.5 trillion annual deficits.

Linda

May 13th, 2011
9:44 pm

What will ultimately be decided over the next few weeks/months is whether entitlement programs will be salvaged or destroyed.

Michael H. Smith

May 13th, 2011
9:51 pm

If entitlement decisions are left solely to the demagoguery of the Socialist Democrats those ’safety net’ programs will self-destruct.

Michael H. Smith

May 13th, 2011
9:57 pm

No de facto balanced budget amendment. We must demand an in facto Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution, lil’ barry.

Lil' Barry Bailout

May 13th, 2011
10:20 pm

I’d be just fine with that Michael. Thing is, we can have the de facto version in August!

Oh, and nice word play…”in facto”…is that Engtin, or Latglish?

marge

May 13th, 2011
10:22 pm

lil’

reset tax code/expenditures to the Clinton era. Great! Your onboard for raising taxes and cutting expenditures.

sam i am

May 13th, 2011
10:24 pm

Here’s what Romney should have said:

“Mandatory insurance is a Republican idea, in furtherance of the fundamental notion of personal responsibility. It was founded in the administration of George H.W. Bush. It was sponsored in the US Senate in 1993 by 16 Republicans including Dole, Hatch, Grassley, and Warner. It was endorsed by Gingrich in 2005, and I signed it into law in 2006.

In 2009 Obama endorsed mandatory insurance. Some of my colleagues thought that in keeping with the effort to paint Obama as a “socialist” and an “other” we should not just oppose this idea that we had nurtured for 15 years, but we should paint it as extreme and use it as proof of Obama’s “otherness.”

This was fundamentally dishonest then, and it is fundamentally dishonest now. While it reaped short term gains, the ends do not justify the means.”

That would have been an honest speech.

brittany

May 13th, 2011
10:27 pm

Bush made his first candid public comments on bin Laden’s killing Wednesday at a hedge fund conference in Las Vegas.

How Republican of him.

Actually he’s been reported to be really pissed that he wasn’t getting a lot of the credit for getting Bin Laden, i.e. the torture techniques that he and Cheney loved so much. Too bad even that weak link has been discredited by a far better man than Bush, John McCain.

GW, A former college cheerleader, was eating souffle when Obama called. No wonder Osama bin-laden attacked us on his watch. What a wimp.

Michael H. Smith

May 13th, 2011
10:36 pm

Just having a lil’ fun, lil’ barry, to make the point that only a Constitutional amendment can make balanced budgets binding going forward and it is very important that we have it in the Constitution to really “win the future”.

Linda

May 13th, 2011
10:49 pm

brittany@10:27, What is worse: enhanced interrogation techniques under the supervision of the CIA or actual torture in countries renowned for torture? Unbeknownst to many people like you, Obama reversed his opinion of torture in 8/09 & continued the practice of rendition, that is, sending suspected terrorists to third countries who are experts in getting information, for detention & interrogation, but with “more oversight.” Does Egypt & Syria come to mind?

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/25/us/politics/25rendition.html

brittany

May 13th, 2011
10:54 pm

linda,

Obama got him and it eats at away at your un-American soul.

Jefferson

May 13th, 2011
10:57 pm

The ceiling will be raised. Nothing new, get over it.

oops! there it is

May 13th, 2011
11:09 pm

Cheney to Treasury: “Deficits don’t matter”

Former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill was told “deficits don’t matter” when he warned of a looming fiscal crisis.
O’Neill, fired in a shakeup of Bush’s economic team in December 2002, raised objections to a new round of tax cuts and said the president balked at his more aggressive plan to combat corporate crime after a string of accounting scandals because of opposition from “the corporate crowd,” a key constituency.
O’Neill said he tried to warn Vice President Dick Cheney that growing budget deficits-expected to top $500 billion this fiscal year alone-posed a threat to the economy. Cheney cut him off. “You know, Paul, Reagan proved deficits don’t matter,” he said, according to excerpts. Cheney continued: “We won the midterms (congressional elections). This is our due.” A month later, Cheney told the Treasury secretary he was fired.

Lil' Barry Bailout

May 13th, 2011
11:27 pm

marge: Your onboard for raising taxes and cutting expenditures.
———————–

Yep. Reset spending at $1.8 trillion a year and then we can raise taxes all the way back up to Clinton levels too!

Lil' Barry Bailout

May 13th, 2011
11:28 pm

oops! there it is: Cheney to Treasury: “Deficits don’t matter”
——————

So, you agree? If not, what is your Idiot Messiah doing to fix his $1.5 trillion deficit?

Bart Abel

May 13th, 2011
11:43 pm

If Republican politicians cared about balancing the budget, then they wouldn’t take tax increases for wealthy and corporations off the table.

If Republican politicians cared about balancing the budget, then they wouldn’t have voted to continue subsidies for oil companies, big agricultural companies, and other corporate beneficiaries.

If Republican politicians cared about balancing the budget, then they wouldn’t continue to vote for increased spending for the military industrial complex.

If Republican politicians cared about balancing the budget, then they wouldn’t have just voted for Paul Ryan’s plan to provide additional tax cuts for the wealthy.

If Republican politicians cared about balancing the budget, then they wouldn’t continue to block efforts to allow Medicare to negotiate better drug prices for seniors.

If Republican politicians cared about balancing the budget, then they wouldn’t have voted to repeal the health care reform law that the CBO estimates will reduce the deficit by $1 trillion.

Let’s be clear. These Republicans don’t care about balancing the budget. They don’t care about lower taxes, and they don’t care about smaller government.

They care about lower taxes for big corporations and the wealthy, while complaining that most Americans don’t pay enough taxes. They want to eliminate welfare for the poor, while seeking to grow welfare for corporations.

Recall that these Republicans squandered surpluses as far as the eye could see, more than doubled the national debt, and drove us into a deep recession that we’re still struggling to recover from.

No. This isn’t about smaller government and balancing the budget. It’s about shifting the resources of the government from benefiting all Americans to benefiting a few well-connected Americans.

If Congress doesn’t increase the debt ceiling, then know this. We WILL be back into a deep recession by the end mid-August, and quite possibly a depression. A DEPRESSION!!!

Congress is playing a chicken with our economy. Republican leaders are threatening to drive us out of the ditch and over the edge of the cliff if they don’t get their way. And their way is entirely for the benefit of the top 1 percent.

Allan Masri

May 13th, 2011
11:55 pm

@Bart

Hear! Hear! Republicans like to talk about the past. Let’s consider the future. Let’s build a country that is fair to all its people, that cares about the sick and the elderly, that teaches the rich and powerful humility. Yes, we can!

Bart Abel

May 13th, 2011
11:56 pm

And another thing.

About that proposed arbitrary cap on federal spending…it’s a back door way to end Medicare as we know it.

Of course, as the baby boomers enter their retirement years, Medicare is the biggest driver of government spending growth over the next decade or so. The proposed caps do not factor in this demographic bubble. So, the end result of such a cap would be to cut benefits drastically or replace Medicare with a less expensive program that would leave entirely millions without coverage.

Republicans tried to accomplish this directly with their votes on the “courageous” Paul Ryan budget that would privatize Medicare. Unfortunately for them, it didn’t go over to well with seniors. So, spending caps are the GOP’s attempt to get the same result without anybody noticing until it’s too late.

dwight

May 14th, 2011
12:00 am

bart & allan,

Amen! Brothers!

oldguy

May 14th, 2011
12:23 am

Bart,
Thats because many Seniors are too dumb to inform themselves about what is happening, Obozos health travesty cuts 1/2 TRILLION dollars from Medicare to help get his core voters into a plan they paid NOTHING to get in!!
The reimbursement rates are getting so bad that most Qualified Drs are limiting or quiting the program (mine quit taking new Medicare patients several years ago, He takes NO Medicaid patients).
you want to see the future/ Look at Mass!!
Mess is a better term,
1/2 of all Mass Drs now do not accept Mass Care
costs are way over estimates
waiting times for medical procedures has trippled
waiting lines are huge at emergency rooms (some hospitals have closed emergency services).
OBozo Care is just around the corner!!!

curious

May 14th, 2011
12:27 am

Does anybody else think Lil Barry Bailout is the real idiot?

He must have a self-esteem problem.

curious

May 14th, 2011
12:35 am

Old Guy,

I’m one also.

What’s your plan?

Cutty

May 14th, 2011
12:45 am

How many times has the current Speaker of the House vote to increase the debt ceiling?

Robert

May 14th, 2011
2:24 am

It is all lies,..they’ll raise it, and then the FED will monetize it. But then the bond market will kill it. so much for our brilliant strategy,..but I’m a pessimist.

Michael H. Smith

May 14th, 2011
6:55 am

More of the same old Socialist Democrat fear-mongering demagoguery on display, with no fiscally responsible solutions to resolve fiscally irresponsible unsound policies.

William Daviau

May 14th, 2011
7:06 am

We have the lowest tax rates in our history. GE and Exxon pay no taxes. Warren Buffet pays a lower marginal rate than does his secretary. We have an aging population and Obama inherited the country during a financial meltdown. Brilliance would involve an open mind about both the revenue side and the expediture side of the ledger. Right now we have Democrats who think the spending side is sacred and Republicans who think the same about the revenue side. There will continue to be a lot of posturing and nothing getting done.

Ayn Rant

May 14th, 2011
7:11 am

The debt ceiling debate is a political farce!

The “deficit reduction” plans proposed both by Democrats and Republicans require deficit spending for the next several years. So, what’s debatable about raising the debt ceiling?

Tinkering with percentage reductions in federal spending rather than specific spending cuts is the politicians’ way of catering to the contradictory demands of an uniformed, unthinking public. The American public wants deficit reduction but opposes any specific cuts that would significantly reduce the deficit.

Why not do the inevitable immediately, then move forward to the impossible? Raise, or better yet, eliminate the debt ceiling, then begin the never-ending quibbling and posturing over the federal budget for the next fiscal year. That’ll carry us on to the 2012 elections without further economic degradation.

independent thinker

May 14th, 2011
7:11 am

This is how Republican demagoguery works:
Reagan passes a bill creating an unfunded mandate requiring all hospital emergency rooms to treat everyone regardless of payment or citizenship.(EMTALA) It is a socialist law making the paying patients pay for the uninsured, the illegals the moochers etc. Then in 1993 they try to correct this unfunded mandate by requiring everyone to have insurance and pay but they fail. Obama passes mandatory insurance so hospitals will go bankrupt and close. It is now labeled by the Republicans as socialism. This is pure hypocrisy and based solely on racism.
ALL YOU HATE MONGERS WHO CALL HIM OBOZO AND WORSE WHY NOT JUST USE THE N__WORD?

Jefferson

May 14th, 2011
7:16 am

The GOP created this problem anyway. Bush was handed a budget suplus, why not pay down debt instead of kissin’ the butts of the wealthy. The GOP way, butt kissin’.

Michael H. Smith

May 14th, 2011
7:24 am

William, do you really believe corporations pay taxes and if they do actually pay taxes in your opinion, then explain to me from where, or from whom exactly, do these corporations get the money to pay those taxes?

Secondly, you do understand the difference between the rate of taxation and the actual dollar amount of taxes being paid?

Who pays more taxes in real term dollar amounts, Warren Buffet or his secretary?

However you are correct in saying nothing will get done because of posturing, which is the demagoguery of telling people what may sounds good but in reality is truly disingenuous at best.

Michael H. Smith

May 14th, 2011
7:36 am

Reagan passes a bill creating an unfunded mandate requiring all hospital emergency rooms to treat everyone regardless of payment or citizenship.(EMTALA)

Very good, independent thinker, for correctly identifying one of the major problems confronting us in being able to create viable “Individualized” healthcare plans and programs that every U.S. citizen should be able to reasonably afford.

I’m working on that humanitarian aid problem, which can hopefully be overcome at the State level of government partly by waivers and the rest by forcing the federal government to pay for its’ own emergency medical aid mandate.

Jefferson

May 14th, 2011
7:40 am

I don’t pay income taxes, I require my employer to pay me enough to cover my taxes. I simply live on my take home.

Thats the kind of logic the GOP uses. Tired,weak. Uncrediable.

A real conservative funds his committments. They raise the revenue to cover their debts. There are none.

Michael H. Smith

May 14th, 2011
7:59 am

I do pay income taxes on the amount money my employer has determined he is able to pay me and yes, unlike the federal government that has a printing press to print money and the Socialist Democrat liberals, I live within my means as best I can relying solely on fixed revenues.

Which is exactly what governments should be forced to do – function within the means of a “fixed revenue income” that We the People determine we are able to pay the government.

Buzz G

May 14th, 2011
8:11 am

Any one who lived through the race riots of the 1960’s remembers what difficult times those were. If we cut off food stamps to tens of millions of Americans (and illegal aliens) we will see rioting in the streets to match the race riots of the 60s. And Republicans will need a backbone of steel to carry this off. We will have a high price to pay for cleaning up the problems caused by 40 years of creeping socialism. But, as Margaret Thatcher said so well years ago, “the problem with socialism is that sooner or later you run out of other people’s money.”

Independent

May 14th, 2011
8:23 am

I don’t understand why legislation lifting the debt ceiling and the budget are two separate legislations. If they approve a budget, the debt ceiling part should be part of it. As far as the current debt ceiling – why did they just approve a 2011 budget and now are not wanting to approve the money to carry out the budget they just approved??? If they did not want to raise the debt ceiling, then they should not have approved a budget requiring that. They should just approve the current debt ceiling increase and save the discussion for the 2012 budget. Or just go ahead and refuse to raise the debt ceiling. But if they do that, how do they decide what things get paid for and what don’t? They have already approved for the programs to receive the money, so it looks like they would have to go back and redo the 2011 budget. A lot of programs have the money paid out included in legislation, so a blanket “just cut every program 30%” won’t work without revising every law that authorizes a program to spend, Social Security? Medicare? Defense? It all really justs sounds like political posturing. Just vote to either raise the debt ceiling or not, and then you live with the consequences. But I think you should leave the budget cutting discusssion to the 2012 budget. Than shut down government if you want.

@@

May 14th, 2011
8:24 am

The GOP has the upper hand in this battle. Use it to crush that can on the heads of Democrats.

They (the GOP) had the upper hand before and did nothing. NOW, the American people are ANGRY and they know it.

Michael’s call for a balanced budget amendment is crucial. Don’t leave Congress without it.

Michael H. Smith

May 14th, 2011
8:29 am

Problem is Buzz, I don’t think the Republicans have that backbone of steel only statesmen possess.
Somehow, someone wedged between the Socialist Democrats and the spineless Republicans must stand up and tell the American children that all the BIG SOCIALIST GUB’MENT fairy tales and promises they have been told simply aren’t real.

carlosgvv

May 14th, 2011
8:31 am

If Boehner is really sincere, he will greatly reduce our Military spending and stop sending foreign aid to our “friends” who truly hate us. He will also demand a stop to all pork spending and require honesty in Government. Further, he will leave Medicare and Social Security alone. If he does this, it will be a good start to reducing our debt. Needless to say, we all know there’s no way this will ever happen.

Michael H. Smith

May 14th, 2011
8:50 am

Harry Reid could do exactly the same thing in the Senate carlosgvv. Spending cuts do not have to originate in the House. The President could virtually do the same through his veto powers. But there is no way to just leave Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security alone, because they are unsustainable as they exist presently. We can argue about how best to fix them fiscally but we cannot in any honesty argue that they can be left alone facing insolvency.

independent thinker

May 14th, 2011
9:00 am

Officially the Pentagon counts 865 base sites, but this notoriously unreliable number omits all our bases in Iraq (likely over 100) and Afghanistan (80 and counting), among many other well-known and secretive bases. More than half a century after World War II and the Korean War, we still have 268 bases in Germany, 124 in Japan, and 87 in South Korea. Others are scattered around the globe in places like Aruba and Australia, Bulgaria and Bahrain, Colombia and Greece, Djibouti, Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, Romania, Singapore, and of course, Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — just to name a few. Among the installations considered critical to our national security are a ski center in the Bavarian Alps, resorts in Seoul and Tokyo, and 234 golf courses the Pentagon runs worldwide.
AND KYLES CHERISHED PARTY WANTS ZERO CUTS OF THE MILITARY- SOMEONE AMONG YOU OBAMA HATERS PLEASE EXPLAIN WHY?????????????????????????????