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OPINION

Time to Build Public Support for Debt Limit Demands

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

Last Friday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned the United States is projected to hit its $31.4 trillion debt borrowing limit by the end of this week. In short, due to unchecked federal spending, Congress will need to raise the nation's debt limit to prevent the United States from defaulting on its financial obligations. Current law constrains the U.S. Department of the Treasury from issuing debt to meet the government's ongoing cash needs by creating a statutory ceiling called the debt limit.

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Once the debt limit is reached, the Treasury cannot borrow more money and will not have enough revenue to meet all its obligations unless Congress passes new legislation raising or suspending the debt limit. Once the debt limit is reached, Secretary Yellen can exercise some limited accounting moves, known as "extraordinary measures," that can buy some time. But the government will eventually run out of cash if the debt limit is not raised by Congress.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has warned that he will consider using the debt ceiling to force cuts to critical programs: "You can't just continue down the path to keep spending and adding to the debt. ... [Y]ou got to change your current behavior. We're not just going to keep lifting your credit card limit, right?" 

With a Democrat President Biden promising to veto every law passed by the Republican House and the Senate maintaining a slim Democrat majority, the House Republicans need to take advantage of every opportunity to use the leverage they do have. When asked what changes in spending might be needed for Republicans to support raising the debt limit, McCarthy said he would not "predetermine" anything. In other words, all spending and entitlements are on the table for consideration. 

It's clear that eventually, the House will have to act to raise the debt limit. If they don't, the nation would go into default with clear disastrous consequences. It always has. Congress has raised the debt limit seventy-eight times since 1960, under both Republican and Democratic presidents. It was raised while President Trump was president, but that didn't stop him from suggesting that House leaders use the debt limit to move forward with needed change. Writing on Truth Social, Trump asserted, "Republicans can get almost everything back...by simply playing tough in the upcoming debt ceiling negotiations."  

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Republicans have had past success in extracting concessions during negotiations. In a 2011 showdown, House Republicans under the leadership of House Speaker John Boehner, successfully used the debt ceiling to extract sharp limits on discretionary spending from President Barack Obama. Those spending caps proved to be effective. They stayed in place for most of the rest of the decade. Is it time for a similar demand?

If Republicans want to use debt limit leverage, they better start now explaining to American voters why such a move is necessary. Delaying a raise in the debt limit will unleash a vicious public relations battle. Any hard line by the House GOP will result in a collective primal scream from Democrats warning of an impending economic Armageddon that would result. Make no mistake; the left-wing media will be on the side of Democrats and will fuel the fear generated.

The problem is clear. If American voters don't understand the reasons for their stand, there will be tremendous pressure for them to fold. The classic question-"What's in it for me?"-has to be answered clearly. Effective change masters in any area sell the need for change before they act to make change happen.  

It will be the job of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and other House Republicans to make it clear the what, the why, and the how any demand will impact the future of average Americans. 

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Start by finding out what demand will maximize public support. Will it be another demand for spending caps that will work to lower spending and help lower inflation? Will it be a demand to finish the Southern border wall to help control the flow of drugs and illegal immigrants across the border? Will it be a demand for changes in out-of-control entitlement programs? Whatever the demand, it needs to be something the majority of Americans will support. 

Once identified, it needs to be communicated early and often before ever taking the stand on the debt limit increase. To limit the length of any holdout, House Republicans will also need to have passed any legislation to enact their demands before the fight begins. The law and needed regulations should be ready for the Senate to pass and for President Biden to sign. 

If a majority of American voters are behind the cause, the pressure will be on the Democrats to support the legislation rather than risk the public's wrath in the 2024 elections. With proper planning and execution, the pressure on the debt limit fight shifts from the Republicans to the Democrats. 

Voters are watching. They want more than investigations. They want Republicans are now in control of the House to exercise their power in beginning to deliver on their promises. The debt limit negotiations provide an opportunity to take a step in making that happen. May it be so.

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Terry Paulson is Ph.D. psychologist, author, and professional speaker on Earned Optimism, Making Change Work, Claiming Your American Dream, and Becoming a Conservative Values Voter.

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