End the Debt Ceiling Games

Fooling around with the debt limit has to stop, writes House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer.

EC_PR_110712lowe.jpg

Editorial Cartoon

By + More

As any family or business owner in America can attest, willfully failing to pay bills on time is a recipe for disaster that can precipitate financial ruin. Yet, that is exactly what Congress is on track to do with America’s finances unless it acts right away to avoid a catastrophic default.

This month marks the fourth time in three years that we will have approached the brink of disaster as a result of Congress’s own doing.

In 2011, Republicans took the unprecedented position of threatening to prevent the timely payment of our country’s obligations unless Democrats agreed to trillions in budget cuts. For several days at the end of July that year, Americans waited anxiously for Congress to reach an agreement to raise the debt limit to accommodate bills Congress had already incurred. After employing all of the so-called extraordinary measures at the Treasury Department’s disposal, and with just days left before an unprecedented default, the parties came together to pass the Budget Control Act.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

However, the political threat to default was enough for rating agency Standard and Poor’s to downgrade America’s creditworthiness for the first time in our history. The uncertainty caused by this downgrade, the atmosphere of fiscal crisis, and the lack of a clear policy direction by Congress all contributed to an environment where businesses have been hesitant to invest in creating jobs here in our country. Worse still, all of this came at a time when economic recovery should have been Congress’s number one priority. 

Instead of learning from this failure, congressional Republicans flirted with the debt ceiling again early last year, relenting only in order to set the stage for a broader confrontation – one that plunged America into another default crisis during the shutdown of the federal government this past October. After sixteen days, Republicans stepped back from the brink, but not before their shutdown inflicted damage to our economy – the full effects of which have yet to be realized.

Today, the deadline for paying our bills has arrived once again, and – as they have shown a willingness to do before – Congressional Republicans are playing a dangerous game with the specter of default and its risks to our economy. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has already warned that a failure to act before late February would mean a historic abdication of Congress’s duty to the American people. In a January 22 letter to Speaker Boehner, he wrote: “The length of time that the extraordinary measures can extend the nation’s borrowing authority is significantly shorter than it was in 2011 and 2013. … Protecting the full faith and credit of the United States is the responsibility of Congress, because only Congress can extend the nation’s borrowing authority. No Congress in our history has failed to meet that responsibility.”

[See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]

He reiterated that point in a speech last Monday, saying: “So the bottom-line is: time is short. Congress needs to act to extend the nation’s borrowing authority, and it needs to act now.”

With just days to prevent a default, Congress must act immediately. House Republicans have indicated that they intend to demand concessions in return for not holding our creditworthiness hostage a fourth time. To do so would be foolish and irresponsible. I – and the American people – hope that our Republican colleagues will use the next several days to prevent economic ruin rather than invite it. If they do, we Democrats will help them.

Something as fundamental as agreeing to pay the bills America has already accrued should not be treated as political leverage. Our credit should never be up for debate. It is fundamental to who we are as a nation that we honor our obligations and keep faith with those who invest in our success.

It is my sincere hope that Speaker Boehner will send clean legislation to the House floor in the coming days to ensure we pay America’s bills. Democrats are ready to vote yes, and make certain that Congress lives up to its responsibility to the people it serves.