Family Research Council

Why debt limit must be used to force a balanced budget

By Michael Needham, Tony Perkins and Chris Chocola


Michael Needham is Chief Executive Officer of Heritage Action for America; Tony Perkins is President of the Family Research Council; Chris Chocola is President of the Club for Growth. This article appeared in Politico on January 16, 2013.


This Monday, President Obama again asserted that the country would "default" if Congress did not raise the debt limit. "The full and faith and credit of the United States is not a bargaining chip," he said at a press conference. This is of course untrue - we have enough funds to service our debt and the only risk to our credit is the president's demagoguery and scare-mongering.

As even journalists pointed out during his press conference, Obama is simply refusing to negotiate. Rather than enter discussions about cutting the excessive spending that has driven $16 trillion in debt, he instead castigated the fiscally prudent with ad hominems like "irresponsible and absurd." At one point he said the Republican Party didn't care whether "seniors have decent health care ... children have enough to eat."

All this obfuscation hides the real issue. When approaching this debt ceiling increase, there appear to be only two options on the table: balance now by refusing to raise the ceiling or balance never by raising it and continuing the status quo. The former would be difficult to absorb but the latter guarantees perpetual decline and a future economic Greece-like calamity.

Today our three organizations will join others in the conservative movement to call on the U.S. Congress to stop the madness and put a third, "balanced" option on the table.

Very simply, we can quickly jump-start our economy and improve the lives of millions of Americans by insisting that Washington not raise the debt ceiling unless our nation gets on a path to a balanced budget within 10 years that stays balanced.

Yes, starting down a path towards balance will require looking through the budget. What mostly drives our trillion-dollar deficit and our $16 trillion debt are unfunded entitlement promises. But getting back to balanced spending is not the only reason to reform Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; we either reform these programs, crush future taxpayers with higher taxes, or erode the economic security of future generations.

Entitlements should not bear all the weight of spending restraint; discretionary spending, both in ineffective stimulus bills and in each year's spending bills, has ballooned. Just as American families spend less to make the checkbooks balance, the federal government must also show some restraint and return to reasonable levels.

While we as fiscal, social and foreign policy conservatives have differing priorities, we can certainly find immediate savings in the discretionary budget. Programs that benefit only a few - agriculture subsidies, green energy handouts, Planned Parenthood, etc. - have at least the appearance of cronyism and special interest handouts. Savings, starting in year one, would have a major impact in getting on a path towards balance by driving down interest costs in the future.

Ten years is not a random horizon, but the traditional congressional budget window. Nor is this demand the result of mere whimsy-it is a moral obligation. No American should have to tell an 8-year-old child that we cannot get our nation's house in order by the time she goes to college. There are many ways to get to a balanced budget and both Democrats and Republicans have an obligation to explain what path they will choose.

During the last budget debate, senators put forward three budgets that balanced, including one from Utah Sen. Mike Lee that was based on the Heritage Foundation's own plan. With a few tweaks, we are convinced that Congressman Paul Ryan's budget could also balance in ten years.

And they all balanced without raising taxes. The president got his tax increase - the debt deal should not further raise taxes and they should never exceed the historic average of 18.5 percent of GDP

Compare that to the recent deficit deal Congress passed and the president signed - 13 new taxes were part of that deal and spending went up by $47 billion. We can do better.

We have time to make these goals realities. The president ought to stop scaring people with talk of default. Not only does the federal government have the funds necessary to service our debt from revenues that will continue to come in, the executive branch has a constitutional obligation to do so.

On August 2, 2011, the president demanded and won a $2.1 trillion increase in our nation's statutory debt ceiling. Some 518 days later, our nation hit its $16.394 trillion debt ceiling. During that time, we as a nation accumulated nearly $47,000 of debt every second. This has to stop.

Balancing never is the height of irresponsibility. The only question is whether America gets on a path to balance through an orderly process or whether the debt limit needs to be used to force the president to address this moral obligation.