Over the past 50 years, Congress has acted 78 times to increase the debt limit. Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize additional spending. But it does send a message to our creditors that the U.S. Government will be responsible for the debts we incur.
In May, the federal debt limit was reached for the 79th time since 1961. If Congress doesn’t increase the ceiling by August, the Federal Government risks defaulting on its financial obligations, throwing credit markets into turmoil and creating the real risk of a devastating global economic collapse.
While Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has taken steps to delay a federal default on its financial obligations until August (including tapping into federal employee pension plans), the sole responsibility to increase our debt limit falls to Congress. This task has always been completed in a timely manner that didn’t seriously threaten the country’s credit rating. Unfortunately, with the current Congress, this has not been the case.
The Republican leadership in the House is holding our economic security hostage over an absolutely necessary debt ceiling increase. They are refusing to seriously consider raising the debt ceiling unless crippling spending cuts that disproportionately hit the middle and lower classes are enacted. Meanwhile, they are refusing to raise tax rates on the highest earners to Clinton-era levels, when job growth and our economy soared. We simply can’t balance our budget without a comprehensive package of thoughtful spending cuts and revenue enhancements.
Given the debt limit’s bipartisan history, it is disappointing and irresponsible that House Republicans this week held a vote on the debt limit in a manner that ensured failure. The bill was brought up on the suspension calendar, a maneuver typically used for non-controversial bills, preventing the offering of amendments and requiring a 2/3 majority to pass – a level of support they fully realize is currently unreachable.
Despite the Republican shenanigans, I voted yes to raise the debt ceiling because it’s the responsible thing to do. We have no choice but to increase the debt limit. Every budgetary proposal before Congress, including President Obama’s, the Republican Study Committee’s and Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget requires Congress to raise the debt ceiling to achieve long term balance.
Confidence in the American economic system, best symbolized by the status of the U.S. dollar as a global reserve currency, has been one of the bedrocks of the global economy. We must not jeopardize that. An unnecessary U.S. default, even if brief, will have long term fiscal consequences because the cost of future government borrowing will increase, only increasingly the deficit that Republicans claim to be so concerned with.
The government has responsibilities to more than just our creditors; we are responsible to the seniors who depend on their Social Security checks and Medicare coverage and soldiers who rely on their paychecks. The ability to borrow allows us to meet those responsibilities. We need to take real action soon to resolve this issue and the clock is ticking.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.