Using the debt ceiling for a powerful message 

Congress and presidents from both major parties have been overspending for so many years that congressional votes to raise the national debt ceiling long ago became perfunctory. But conventional thinking is no longer appropriate, and not only because Americans cannot afford a $13.9 trillion national debt and the $1 trillion-plus annual deficits President Barack Obama proposes as far as the fiscal eye can see.

So long as the federal government continues to spend far beyond its means, the nation’s economy will remain mired in a recessionary stasis. No wonder the incoming Republican majority in the House is threatening to have what Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., calls a “big showdown” with the president over the debt ceiling, with a vote to come sometime this spring. Austan Goolsbee, Obama’s chairman of the White House council of economic advisers, expounds in horror that not raising the national debt ceiling yet again would be “insanity.”  

Goolsbee should consult a floor speech delivered not so long ago by a certain member of Congress who offered this counterargument to automatic debt ceiling hikes: “The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. … It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our government’s reckless fiscal policies.” Which die-hard tea party wingnut said that? It was none other than Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., speaking on the Senate floor in 2006, just before he voted against raising the debt ceiling. Obama was right. America would be in better financial health today if the Republican Congress in 2006 had stopped spending billions more tax dollars than the U.S. Treasury collected and ended the borrowing of countless billions of dollars from China to support continued deficit spending.

Unfortunately, Obama and his fellow Democrats who took power after the 2008 election forgot his wise words and went on a spending binge that exceeded their predecessors. As a result, the “insanity” we now face is the growth of the national debt from $10.6 trillion on the day Obama took office to the present gargantuan burden on our children and our children’s children. Under Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, the 111th Congress spent more in its two years than the first 100 congresses combined, adding $10,429 in new debt for every man, woman and child.

The current debt ceiling is $14.3 trillion, against which the government has spent $13.9 trillion. That means a 2011 deficit of more than $400 billion will require a higher debt ceiling. Since the Republican House won’t have had a full year in office, representatives should demand spending cuts to reduce the deficit to as close to $400 billion as possible. Then, they should vote for one more debt ceiling increase, but with a boldface asterisk adding a vital caveat: Never again.

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