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Washington Memo: Debt ceiling was lost opportunity to address looming fiscal crisis

I ran for the Senate to get our nation’s fiscal house in order – making it clear that unless Washington stops its ruinous spending habits, future generations won’t have the same opportunities that we’ve had.

When I was elected in 2010, the national debt was nearly $14 trillion. Just three years later, the debt is more than $17.2 trillion, and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office recently reported that the debt will reach an alarming $27 trillion over the next decade. The need for responsible deficit and debt reduction is becoming more – not less – urgent.

The nation’s debt ceiling is like a person’s credit card limit: When you’ve maxed out your card, it’s a sure sign that you’re spending beyond your means and need to find ways to cut back.

I’ve repeatedly said that before we increase the nation’s credit limit yet again, both parties should work together to address the underlying drivers of our debt. Of course I want our nation to avoid a credit default. But in a Feb. 14 editorial (“What does that ‘no’ vote really mean?”), the Monitor presented a false choice by suggesting that the only two options are default or blindly rubber-stamping a clean debt ceiling increase.

In fact, over the course of the past three decades, almost every major deficit reduction law has been part of a debt limit debate.

The bipartisan 1985 Gramm-Rudman-Hollings spending reform legislation, led by New Hampshire Sen. Warren Rudman, was attached to a debt limit measure. During Republican and Democratic presidential administrations in the 1990s, three significant deficit reduction bills (the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990, the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993, and the Balanced Budget Act of 1997) were also passed in conjunction with a debt ceiling increase. And most recently, the 2010 Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act and 2011 Budget Control Act were linked to the debt limit.

In 2006, when President Obama was a senator, he voted against raising the debt ceiling, saying: “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 the U.S. government can’t pay its own bills.”

He continued: “Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. . . . Americans deserve better.”

On the day Obama spoke, our gross debt was approximately $8.3 trillion – it’s now more than twice that.

He had it right then. And nearly eight years later, the “leadership failure” he referenced has only grown more irresponsible.

When it comes to our rapidly rising debt, Washington can’t keep burying its head in the sand, leaving it to someone else to make the tough decisions to put our nation on a fiscally responsible path. It took members of both parties to get our nation into this precarious fiscal situation – and it will take both parties working together to get us out of it.

The debt limit legislation that passed Congress last week did absolutely nothing to address our $17 trillion debt. This was a lost opportunity to work together to address – or at a minimum, debate – our nation’s serious fiscal problems, and that’s why I voted no.

(Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire is a member of the Senate Budget Committee.)

Legacy Comments1

I have given up worrying about our national debt. The debt portion and the unfunded liabilities are so enormous, its silly to think we can pay it. I'll be dead and gone half a century, and govt will still be spending money we dont have. One day, some elected official will say.."we're screwed" and the unsustainable path we are on will be..unsustainable. That means it will stop. Then, we might have some real reform..but not a second before.

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