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Why Is the Left Playing Games With the Debt Limit?

Well, President Obama asked for it. And last night he got it in grand fashion—a “clean vote” on raising the nation’s debt limit, free of any of the desperately needed spending cuts that Americans are demanding, conservatives support, but liberals abhor. And by a 318–97 margin, the House of Representatives shot down the President’s effort to authorize $2.4 trillion in additional borrowing by the federal government without condition.

The vote was introduced by the House Republican majority to send a message to the President in advance of their meeting today at the White House: There cannot be more borrowing and spending without significant spending cuts and reforms. But when asked yesterday about the vote, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney merely said, “It’s fine. It’s fine,” and assured reporters that President Obama will “definitely” win the debt limit fight. Meanwhile, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) decried the vote, calling it a “political charade” and a “30-second ad attack.” Rep. Hoyer and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) then joined Republicans and voted against President Obama’s wishes.

Unfortunately, all is not fine, this is not a game, and what the White House and congressional Democrats view as nettlesome roadblocks to the continued growth of government is a movement to at long last restore sanity to the federal government amid a fiscal crisis. And that movement is occurring in the utter vacuum of leadership centered at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

That failure to lead can be traced back to 2010, when the Democrat-controlled Congress did not pass a budget for the first time since current budget rules were put into place in 1974. And from there, a straight line can be drawn to last week, when the Senate voted 97–0 against President Obama’s fiscal year 2011 budget proposal. It is in this empty garden, left untended by leadership from the White House, that our federal government has been allowed to grow unchecked.

The federal government is borrowing 40 cents of every dollar it spends. The accumulated national debt stands at nearly 70 percent of the country’s annual economic output, set to climb to 100 percent by the end of this decade. And according to some comparisons, the U.S. economy is already in worse shape than the stumbling economies of most European nations. But never fear: The President is holding a meeting with congressional Republicans today to “hear and listen to their ideas, their concerns.”

Mr. President, it’s not enough to simply “hear and listen.” Now is the time for you to lead the way in cutting spending and reforming government. Take the advice of more than 150 economists who authored a letter warning about the consequences of increasing spending without changes in the way government does business:

An increase in the national debt limit that is not accompanied by significant spending cuts and budget reforms would harm private-sector job growth and represent a tremendous setback in the effort to deal with our national debt.

And with yesterday’s vote, it’s clear that raising the debt limit without reforms is not an available option. The path forward should instead be one marked by substantial spending cuts designed to target our nation’s fiscal problems. Those cuts should be followed by crucial changes such as hard spending caps and entitlement reforms that would return the nation to fiscal sanity and keep it there. David S. Addington, Vice President for Domestic and Economic Policy at The Heritage Foundation, writes:

[T]the least acceptable outcome is for Congress to continue to raise the debt ceiling over and over, doing nothing to drive down federal spending and borrowing, and to pile trillions of dollars in debt upon the shoulders of America’s children and the generations to follow.”

While the White House warns that not raising the debt limit would be “calamitous,” “disastrous” and “catastrophic,” their end-of-days rhetoric is equally applicable to the present state of the nation’s fiscal course. In the absence of leadership from the President, conservatives in Congress have attempted to right the ship. It’s about time that the President get on board.

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