The government is once again set to max out the nation’s credit card.
According to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, the national debt may reach the current limit — or “ceiling” — of $14.3 trillion in a matter of months.
Congress last raised the debt ceiling a year ago in February when the national debt hovered around $12.3 trillion. In the year since then, the debt has grown to over $14 trillion, and it continues to rise — which is why Congress must, for the fourth time since President Obama took office, act to raise the ceiling.
Raising the debt limit enables the federal government to pay its bills by borrowing more money. Though it would maintain the confidence of those who hold our nation’s debt, it is hardly a solution to our fiscal woes. If an individual maxes out his credit card, he or she
must pay down the debt before using the card again. A consumer is not going to have any luck petitioning his or her credit card company for a higher limit because the individual wants to buy something new.
But, the Obama administration can make such a request. President Obama’s economic adviser Austan Goolsbee warned against “playing chicken” with the debt ceiling. “This is not a game,” he said on ABC’s “This Week” program.
Congress typically goes along. Thus, the government, unlike an individual consumer, can keep spending because Congress and the president can simply raise the credit limit.
But, it would be irresponsible to raise the debt limit and continue the unsustainable spending, so Republicans in the Senate and House are going to introduce measures to cut spending and reform the way the government spends money. One idea is to return spending to 2008 levels; another is to enact a statutory spending limit and vote on a balanced budget amendment. What is certain: we will not raise the debt ceiling without enacting proposals to get spending under control.
In the past decade, the national debt has increased by about $8.3 trillion. Under the FY10 Obama Budget, federal spending is on track to double in five years and triple in 10. In 2011 alone, the federal government is expected to spend $3.83 trillion. By comparison, in 2001, the budget was $1.86 trillion. Do we really need twice as much government today as we did just 10 years ago?
One of the messages the American people sent last November was to stop the wasteful spending in Washington. Getting the nation out of debt is a long-term project, one that requires a firm and steady commitment to responsible spending policies. The debt limit debate gives the new Congress the opportunity to take a first step toward reining in federal spending in a meaningful way.
Sen. Jon Kyl is the Senate Republican Whip and serves on the Senate Finance and Judiciary committees. Visit his Web site at www.kyl.senate.gov or his YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/senjonkyl.