July 22, 2019
While the media's busy talking about China, Iran, and North Korea, the biggest threat to America may be the one nobody's really talking about -- the U.S. debt. Our country has plenty of enemies, but right now, Congress's spending habits may be doing more damage to America's future than any dictator ever could. Now that the U.S. is up against the borrowing limit, both parties have a chance to do something about it. But, as everyone knows, talking about budget cuts isn't the problem. Finding leaders who will carry through with them is.
If a good political compromise is one that everyone hates, then this weekend's debt ceiling proposal is a success. As of late Sunday, both sides were still trying to nail down details on a deal that would give America an even bigger credit limit over the next two years -- with almost no real spending cuts to offset it. Conservatives, like Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) -- head of the Republican Study Committee, can't believe the administration is even considering it. The last thing America should be doing, they insist, is make it easier for Congress to spend money it doesn't have.
Think about it in terms of a credit card, some Republicans have said. If you have a son or daughter who exceeds the limit, what do you do? Well, for starters, you rip up the card. Then you make it clear: it's time to change our habits. So far, Congress has done neither. In fact, the preliminary plan hashed out between Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin isn't in the same ballpark as the White House's budget gurus, who insist that any debt ceiling increase has to be tied to $150 billion in new cuts.
What Pelosi and other members are suggesting, the Washington Post points out, does the exact opposite. It increases spending by tens of billions of dollars through 2021 -- completely ignoring the White House's request to start slashing money for government agencies, starting in October. The measly $80 billion Pelosi does include in offsets are pocket change compared to what the president's team requested -- not to mention, the Post argues, they wouldn't take place for years. And that's if a future Congress doesn't reverse them!
Rep. Johnson, like his fellow conservatives, say no deal. "We believe the White House and congressional leadership should be prepared to walk away from this if necessary." With America swimming in red ink, he believes -- and we agree -- that Congress can't keep kicking this can down the road. In a country that's added $2.6 trillion of debt just in the last three years, we are out of road.
And while House leaders have known about this crisis for months (America hit the debt ceiling way back in March) Pelosi waited until right before her chamber adjourns for August recess to ram through a plan that only gives Congress the green light to blow through more money. To wear down the resistance, Pelosi agreed to include a big bump in defense spending -- and the assurance that Democrats won't add any "poison pill riders" (like taxpayer-funded abortion) to the final text.
The debt ceiling is "a very, very sacred thing in our country..." the president told reporters. "We can never play with it." Even so, fiscal experts warn, America's borrowing is on an unsustainable path. While Americans yawn at the numbers, the reality is grim. "Right now," Maya MacGuineas warns, "interest payments [on the national debt] are the single fastest growing part of the budget. Next year, we'll spend more on them than we do on children. Within five years, we'll spend more on them than we do on national defense."
Back in 2016, the GOP tried to draw a line in the sand with the Republicans' national platform. "The huge increase in the national debt demanded by and incurred during the current administration has placed a significant burden on future generations. We must impose firm caps on future debt, accelerate the repayment of the trillions we now owe in order to reaffirm our principles of responsible and limited government, and remove the burdens we are placing on future generations," the delegations agreed.
Lee Payne from Stephen Austin University has said before that parties vote with their platforms 82 percent of the time. It's a shame that spending, for some Republicans, is the exception.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.