Editorial: Dismantle debt-ceiling doomsday machine
Our profound thanks to Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte for their bipartisan attempt to bring order to bedlam in Congress. The senators, along with a handful of their colleagues, most of them also women, led the effort to craft a compromise bill that would end the government shutdown and raise to debt ceiling to prevent default. May that effort, for everyone’s sake, succeed and put an end to this buffoonish black comedy that’s making a laughingstock of America.
As of late yesterday, a majority of House Republicans remained resolute in their insistence that their long and expensive tantrum result in some face-saving concessions from President Obama and the Senate. The concessions sought may or may not include a delay or changes to the Affordable Care Act timetable, which was the House Republicans’ ostensible reason for pushing the U.S. and global economies toward the brink of recession. All House Republicans want to do now is come out with something to show for all the billions of dollars in damage to the economy they have caused and suffering they have inflicted.
For their part, Democrats remain firm in their refusal to negotiate with the congressional hostage takers, as they should. That would only up the ante the next time the debt ceiling needs to be raised. But wait: What if the members of Congress who actually want government to work dismantled the debt-ceiling doomsday machine altogether? Then neither party, when in the minority, could threaten to damage the full faith and credit of the United States in order to get its way.
The debt ceiling, once a well-meaning attempt to impose some fiscal discipline on Congress, has instead become an economic weapon of mass destruction that should be destroyed. We urge Shaheen and Ayotte, and Reps. Annie Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter, to join the effort to abolish it.
The debt ceiling has done nothing to prevent the debt, now approaching $17 trillion, from growing. It’s been raised 94 times since 1944 under presidents of both parties. A vote to raise it is not a vote for more government spending. It’s an agreement to borrow money to pay bills Congress has already run up.
A number of Republican members of Congress are arguing that defaulting on America’s debts, or just paying the interest due, would not be such a bad thing. They are delusional. Imagine, for example, the impact of telling your bank that you’re good for the mortgage payment, but you just can’t make it this month and will only pay the interest due. Hello to shopping at places with signs that say “Bad credit rating, no problem.”
The United States borrows 30 cents of every dollar it spends. That’s not a good thing, especially since much of the money, both borrowed and raised in taxes, is spent on things like the war in Iraq rather than rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure. Borrowing should be reduced – and it would be if politicians were willing to spend only what they were willing to raise in taxes. When Congress created the need for a vote to borrow to cover bills already incurred, it built a stage upon which irresponsible lawmakers and demagogues could conduct a farce that the whole world is forced to watch. It’s time to take away the stage and send the idiots strutting and fretting about on it back to the wings.