President Obama is demanding that Congress, which has no control over future debt, raise the debt ceiling in the next few weeks. Given an $18 trillion national debt, that’s a recipe for fiscal disaster. To have a strong economy and be a world leader, we have to return to fiscal health, and that requires spending restraint and an end to Washington’s debt binge.
The problem for Congress is that the money has already been spent. The debt law was written backward. It allows the government to spend first and then forces the approval of the debt. The administration is using the debt limit to put taxpayers between a rock and a hard place — either authorize more debt or face a financial crisis and government shutdown that will be orchestrated by the president.
The immediate risk to fiscal conservatives is that outgoing House speaker John Boehner may use his departure to push through an extra-large increase in the debt ceiling to fund government largesse into 2017. He may think this helps Republicans by avoiding conflict with President Obama, but it doesn’t. It leaves the party divided and without a way to prove to voters that there is any difference between it and the Democrats, when it comes to fiscal health.
There’s a better approach. It is vital for Republicans to make spending and debt a key election issue in 2016, but that won’t happen if the debt limit is kicked to 2017. Given the tight deadline, the speaker should allow a vote to extend the debt limit, but only into early 2016. The president will need to get almost all Democrats to vote for it.