We find ourselves in the midst of an important battle, the outcome of which will be determined by decisions to be made in the immediate days ahead. We must win this fight. The debate over raising the debt limit seems complicated, but it is really very simple. Look beyond the myriad details of the awkward compromises, and you see an epic struggle between two opposing camps.
On one side are those who have come to realize it would be madness to let the political class borrow more without imposing a serious check on government spending. They have produced budgets and now an actual legislative plan to get things under control.
On the other, you find those who consider more spending, taxing, and borrowing a royal prerogative. They have produced nothing but rhetoric and empty promises and have pushed this debate to the brink.
It is a fair fight—or would be, if those trying to bring sanity to the nation’s fiscal picture were not held back by confused allies. These allies say they still want to cut spending, but (temporarily, we hope) have put love of political maneuvering ahead of the principles that brought them to Washington in the first place.
It would also help if the nation’s media clearly separated facts from opinion.
Let’s be clear. As of this moment, only one plan in Congress attempts transformative change that puts America on the path to getting spending under control before raising the debt limit. That is the Cut, Cap and Balance Act passed by the House of Representatives on Monday night. It isn’t perfect, but it is definitely a step in the right direction.
The act cuts federal spending immediately, caps it by statute going forward, and requires passage of a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution, which would then be sent to the states for ratification.
If you haven’t heard about it, you’re not alone. The nation’s media all but ignored this historic vote or dismissed the Cut, Cap and Balance Act as an empty gesture. CBS’s Bob Schieffer once again spoke for the establishment when he called it “a total waste of time…part of this little Kabuki dance that we go through.”
This media establishment took its cue from President Obama, who showered his trademark disdain on the House vote, not only threatening a veto but also announcing a so-called breakthrough in negotiations just hours before the House voted. In doing so, Mr. Obama refused to engage the arguments of Cut, Cap and Balance and signaled his fear of this serious proposal.
Unfortunately, it was not just the media and President Obama who worked against Cut, Cap and Balance. By letting themselves be talked into agreeing to a compromise the very day of the House vote, a group of Senators called the “Gang of Six” played into the hands of those who wanted to kill Cut, Cap and Balance.
The same can be said of the so-called McConnell–Reid Plan, a convoluted mousetrap of a compromise that would just authorize trillions more in borrowing with an empty promise that—maybe—Congress will cut spending one day.
There is no more time left for political gamesmanship by the tax, spend, and borrow crowd. The Senate has an obligation to debate Cut, Cap and Balance, and the American people need to be given time to consider it. We agree with Senator Ron Johnson (R–WI), who told MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough this week, “I know Washington is broken. I see business as usual here. But now we’re witnessing business as usual on steroids, and it’s bankrupting this nation.”
Senator Johnson’s solution, which seems to us the only way forward, was the following:
If we’re really going to prevent America from going bankrupt, it’s a two-step process. The first thing we have to do is instill that fiscal discipline: the hard spending caps. And I think honestly, in the end we need a Constitutional amendment to limit the size of government. Anything else—all these other negotiations, secret little things, commissions—that’s business as usual, and again, that has been bankrupting America. We’ve got to step back from that. We’ve got to instill fiscal discipline. That’s what Cut, Cap and Balance does.
The men and women thinking of compromising at this point are not bad or unpatriotic; they simply have lost their way. Those of us who still watch old movies can compare the present situation to the 1957 classic “The Bridge on the River Kwai.”
In the film, an upright British colonel who had become a prisoner of war forgets temporarily the principles he was sworn to uphold and—to show his Japanese captors the professionalism of British soldiers—puts his men to work building the best bridge possible.
In the end, he recovers his sanity and realizes he is only helping the Japanese war effort, and he helps destroy the bridge.
It isn’t too late for us yet. Government spending is currently at 24.3 percent of GDP, and U.S. debt held by the public stands at 69.1 percent of GDP. This bridge needs to be stopped.
Congress should not raise the debt limit without getting spending under control. Debt limit legislation should put America on the path to driving down federal spending and borrowing, while preserving the ability to protect America without raising taxes.
Edwin J. Feulner
President, The Heritage Foundation