Eliminate the debt ceiling


The White House won't use its executive powers to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Dec. 6.

While presidential restraint on the breadth of executive powers is welcome, the underlying inability of Congress to deal with the debt ceiling must be resolved.

There's a simple way – get rid of it, permanently. When federal spending bumps up against the borrowing limit set by Congress, what's at stake isn't future spending. What's at stake is the ability of the government to honor obligations already incurred – the full faith and credit of the United States of America.

Of course, the enormity of the stakes is what makes it appealing to those in Congress who seek to ramrod a minority position on the size of the federal government into law by leveraging what should be a procedural vote into a standoff. But not raising the limit – which is about past obligations, not future ones – has dire consequences. Were the government to stop paying returns on bonds, or sending social security checks, or paying its bills, global financial crisis would result.

The very threats to not raise the limit are damaging. The government's credit rating suffered as a result of the last debt ceiling debate in 2011 and the Government Accountability Office estimated in a July report that the crisis cost the government about $1.3 billion. The Bipartisan Policy Center estimates the 10 year cost to taxpayers is $18.9 billion.

The debt ceiling today is an anachronism, since it's the modern Congress that controls the pace of spending through the budget and appropriations process. When the government will reach the debt ceiling is a predictable event made by the votes of Congress. For that body to simultaneously approve measures that require spending and then balk at the prospect of additional borrowing to cover that same spending is the height of irresponsibility, and hypocrisy.

President Obama recently attempted to preempt a strategy among congressional Republicans to again use the debt ceiling to extract concessions by telling a Dec. 5 audience that "it is not a game that I will play."

That type of resolution is necessary if we as a nation are not to be hit with periodic debt crises for the foreseeable future, each one dragging down the credibility of the government.

Unfortunately, it looks as if some in Congress still believe it is a game. Hence Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who found himself on Dec. 6 filibustering his own bill that would have permitted the president to raise the debt limit. McConnell apparently calculated that fewer than 51 Democrats would approve it, but when Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) brought it to the floor for a vote, McConnell quickly backtracked.

Said Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) afterward, "It really calls into question whether or not this was the kind of offer that would be considered to be good faith."

Yes, it does. The debt ceiling has got to go. - Dave