After compelling the President to axe almost $80 billion from his desired spending levels for the fiscal year, House Republicans are once again faced with the prospect of negotiating with a recalcitrant President on the next spending battle: the approaching debt ceiling. In keeping with his inflated rhetoric on the threat of a government shutdown, President Obama is feigning exigency once again, claiming a “clean” debt limit vote is necessary to prevent government default and certain economic catastrophe.
The request to increase the debt limit without confronting the actual causes of debt belies the wisdom of having a debt ceiling – limiting the government’s borrowing authority is supposed to inspire prudence, not offer opportunity to flout it. What’s more, a “clean” debt limit vote would be somewhat anachronistic; the limit has been raised ten times in as many years with significant reforms attached, such as passage of the Congressional Review Act in 1996 and the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings budget reforms in 1985.
With the headroom on the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling closing in, Republicans have offered several proposals that would address the government’s overspending problem that drives the mounting debt. A balanced budget amendment to the constitution is one suggestion, as are serious statutory spending caps. However, the enormity of the government’s overspending problem requires additional and serious reform, addressing the seemingly insoluble spiral of entitlement spending and rectifying the government’s bias to abuse, rather than save, taxpayer dollars. The current political environment does not lend itself to reform that fully rectifies these problems.
However, as witnessed in the funding debate, a Congress that is unwilling to cut $100 billion at one time is comfortable with cutting that amount in pieces every few weeks. This is a lesson learned from the political success of the Left: the President’s “stimulus” binge, health care takeover and financial overhaul were not simply a product of Democrat majorities – they are an artifact of years of gradual government creep, in which policymakers on both sides of the aisle were complicit in bloated spending and increasing government overreach. Addressing the statist assault will have to be done in the same way – gradually. A short term debt limit that serves as a real and constant reminder of the government’s overspending problem provides the opportunity to do this.