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There is a very good chance that by the time you read this, Congress will have already sent debt-ceiling legislation to the president to sign. However, I went ahead and wrote this column in order to get information to you as quickly as possible.
This column addresses the “Boehner plan,” put forth by Majority Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio), which I voted against.
Washington has spent a lot of time over the last several weeks talking about a “deal.” In fact, politicians from both parties have been clamoring for a deal.
Our country doesn’t need a “deal.” It needs a solution. A solution to our spending addiction. A solution to our debts and deficits. And a solution to the business-as-usual approach that brought us to the deplorable condition in which we find ourselves today. This bill did not accomplish that.
The bill lacks sufficient cuts. Indeed, this year – the only year when any cuts at all are guaranteed in this bill – actual spending cuts are only $22 billion. This is less than the cuts called for in the budget we passed just a few months ago. Indeed, this bill allows us to spend more this year than we would have without it. I fear exactly that will happen.
The original bill lacked true spending caps. And while the revised version raises the bar for violating those caps, Washington’s history makes it clear that those caps will be ignored as soon as it is politically expedient to do so.
The revised version of the bill also removed spending caps for 2012 and 2013.
But, most critically of all, the bill would increase the debt ceiling by $900 billion before any vote on a balanced budget amendment. I could have voted for the bill, despite its other shortcomings, if a balanced budget amendment requirement had been included prior to a debt-ceiling increase. But I could not support it based on a promise that the president and Senate Democrats are so unlikely to fulfill.
I also never believed the threat – leveled by many, including those in my own party – that this country will default on its debt as a result of any failure to raise the debt ceiling. The president has both the legal authority and the cash necessary to pay interest on our debt. A decision not to do so would be a purely political one, executed with the specific intention of ruining our economy. As much as I disagree with President Obama on many things, I refuse to believe that even he would be willing to overtly destroy our country in order to gain a political advantage. Indeed, we heard last week that he was secretly assuring Wall Street that there would, in fact, be no default.
The default and Social Security threats were designed from the beginning to build pressure for a “deal.” Again, we need solutions, not deals.
While the default threat rings hollow, the threat of a downgrade on our sovereign debt is very real. I also think it is inevitable without the sort of structural change this bill lacks. And if our debt is in fact downgraded, it will not be because of any delay in raising the debt ceiling, but because of our insatiable addiction to deficit spending. Our debt will be the cause for any downgrade, not the debt ceiling.
The general consensus seems to indicate a downgrade would cost us at least $100 billion per year in additional interest costs on our massive government debt. A downgrade, then, in one fell swoop, would increase our spending next year by more than four times the amount this bill proposes to save. In that sense, this bill is a formula for more spending, not less.
Our Cut, Cap and Balance Act was a real solution, and the only one that could have prevented a downgrade. I ask the Senate, again, to take up that bill for the good of the country. If they find the cuts, the caps or the terms of the balance budget amendment unacceptable, they are free to alter them and return that bill to the House. They may be surprised by the reception the bill would receive, even if modified by the Senate.
I know many people saw this bill as the best option available, given Democratic control of the Senate and the White House. Some even saw this as a good first step toward addressing our fiscal difficulties. I hope they are correct.
But I could not vote based on hope. The stark facts would not permit me to join them.