The Fight to Save the Debt Limit

Posted: Oct 04, 2013 8:53 AM

Senate Democrats had some good fun attacking Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) Thursday, over his statement that Republicans could not give in on the government shutdown because otherwise they would be "disrespected."

"I want to apologize for anything I may have said that disrespected Marlin Stutzman," Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) told reporters at a press conference.

But as Stutzman later clarified, the determination among Republicans not to cave on the debt limit is about far more than bruised egos. It is about the balance of power between the Executive and Legislative branches, and about preserving one of the best tools the American people have to limit the size and scope of the federal government.

Nobody understands this better than President Obama and his progressive allies. The Washington Post's Greg Sargent reports:

Obama and his senior advisers view the debt limit battle as a “must win” fight — not one where the difference can be split in any meaningful sense. They see it as a battle that, if not concluded decisively, could have lasting ramifications not just for this presidency, but for others to follow...

Beyond this presidency, Obama and senior officials think that if the debt limit continues to be seen as a legitimate lever with which to extract major policy concessions, it could mar the appropriate balance of power between future presidents and Congresses.

Obama and the Democrats are right: if Republicans cave on the debt limit now, the debt limit will be dead forever as a functional tool to limit executive power and control federal spending.

But that is also why Republicans will never give in.

Obama and his allies want Americans to believe that history began when Obama took office in 2009. But that just isn't the case. As Heritage Action President Mike Needham details at the Federalist, Congress has long used the debt limit as a perfectly constitutionally valid way to check governemnt spending:

Our nation, by law, established a debt ceiling in 1917 as part of the Second Liberty Bond Act. The non-partisan Congressional Research Services explains the debt ceiling “imposes a form of fiscal accountability that compels Congress and the President to take visible action to allow further federal borrowing when the federal government spends more than it collects in revenues."

In other words, it is as if a smoke alarm has been installed in our nation’s fiscal policy to provide the American people and their elected representatives the opportunity to periodically determine whether or not the house is on fire and, if so, what to do about it.

Don’t tell that to President Obama, however. “No Congress before this one has ever, ever, in history been irresponsible enough to threaten default, to threaten an economic shutdown, to suggest America not pay its bills,” he said last week.

This is, however, completely false. Gramm-Rudman was attached to a debt limit increase in the 1980s and played a role in getting our nation to a balanced budget a decade later. In 1996, an increase in the Social Security earnings limit for the benefit of senior Americans was attached to a debt limit showing that debt limits can also be used to increase spending.

Like Obamacare, the sequester is also the law of the land. But it only exists today because of the opportunity the debt limit created for Republicans to revisit our nation's previous spending policies.

The left hates the sequester and the hate every opportunity Congress is given to limit federal spending. That is why they want to kill the debt limit and that is why House Republicans will never pass a clean debt limit hike.

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