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July 22nd, 2011

Enough Already

On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the GOP-proposed Cut, Cap, and Balance legislation by a vote of 234-190.   The bill cuts $111 billion out of fiscal year 2012 and, by imposing ten-year spending caps tied to a certain percentage of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), the Republicans guesstimate that it will cut $5.8 trillion by 2021.  The bill would also raise the debt ceiling $2.4 trillion to a total of $16.7 trillion if, and only if, Congress sends a Balanced Budget Amendment to the States for ratification.

According to the roll call, Iowa’s Republican Congressmen King and Latham voted for the bill while all three of their Democratic colleagues voted against it.  Noticeably, Representatives Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul, the only two Republican presidential contenders currently serving in Congress, both voted against it.

Sadly, only Congressman Latham, a co-sponsor of the legislation, respected his constituents enough to state the reasons for his vote:

…But it would also be irresponsible for us not to ensure that this type of crisis never again threatens the economic stability of this nation or her people.  The House of Representatives will take bold action on the debt crisis by considering legislation that cuts spending in the short term, caps it in the long term and requires Congress to approve a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution before it can approve any increase in the debt ceiling.  This is a common-sense solution that not only addresses the crisis but also comprehensively changes the way Washington works…

Congressman King’s vote in favor of raising the debt ceiling without defunding ObamaCare was odd, given that he had told The Iowa Republican (TIR) in June that:

…a debt ceiling vote should be off the table until military pay and our country’s full faith and credit were guaranteed.  Even if those two measures went into effect, he would only be willing to support raising the debt ceiling if it defunded ObamaCare, imposed spending caps, and Congress passed a balanced budget amendment.

Despite Republican praise for the bill, it leaves everything to be desired.  First, it leaves entitlement spending, the primary driver of our national debt, untouched.  The GOP’s own Pathway to Prosperity makes it “very clear that, absent action, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will soon grow to consume every dollar of revenue that the government raises in taxes.”

The second problem is that, though it caps spending to a percentage of GDP for ten years, it once again exempts “payments for military personnel accounts, Medicare, military retirement, Social Security, veterans, and net interest.”  In other words, over half of current federal spending would not be capped under the legislation.

Third, even if accurate, the postulated $5.8 trillion in cuts in the next ten years will barely cover the $5.506 trillion in interest payments the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates the federal government will pay between now and 2021.  Additionally, the goal of $5.8 trillion in cuts is slightly less ambitious than the $6 trillion in ten years contained in the House-passed Ryan plan, which still would have raised the debt ceiling to $23.1 trillion by 2021.

The fourth and final problem with the bill is that it doesn’t balance the budget.  It doesn’t even attempt to do so.  Rather, they want to send a yet-to-be-voted-on Balanced Budget Amendment for ratification to the States that will, so the theory goes, constitutionally-mandate them to do what they refuse to voluntarily do themselves.  Such an amendment, however, will hardly contain Congress’ ingenious accounting practices and will only serve to pressure Republicans to raise taxes in order to balance the budget.

As the recent debt ceiling debates have abundantly made clear, the federal government will never maintain a balanced budget, with or without an amendment to the Constitution.  The only way to ensure that Congress lives within its means is by refusing to raise the debt ceiling, a ceiling that no funny math or empty promises can get around.

As previously noted, “federal revenues will reach $2.17 trillion this fiscal year. Interest payments on the nation’s debt are estimated to be $205 billion this year, or about 10 percent of revenues. Taking that payment off the top, [thereby protecting the country’s full faith and credit], leaves $1.9 trillion for Congress to spend.”  When was the last time Congress only spent $1.9 trillion?  Just a mere ten years ago.

But what about Grandma and soldiers in the field who, according to President Obama, may not get their checks?  As The Washington Examiner notes:

The federal government receives approximately $200 billion in revenues each month.

* Interest on the national debt in August will be approximately $29 billion.

* Social Security will cost about $49.2 billion.

* Medicare and Medicaid will cost about $50 billion.

* Active duty military pay will cost about $2.9 billion.

* Veterans affairs programs will cost about $2.9 billion.

If you’ve been punching buttons on your calculator, you know that still leaves $39 billion each month. This is where Obama and the Democrats most fear to go. If Congress doesn’t agree to raise taxes and the national debt limit, they will then have to make the tough choices about which of the remaining programs gets paid or cut and by how much.

Unfortunately, that is also where Republicans most fear to tread as well.  Instead of promising us that they will balance the budget at some future date, they could actually achieve it now without lifting a finger.  But rather than be responsible, Republicans will tell their constituents that they couldn’t do anything so long as Obama occupies the White House and the Democrats control the Senate and, therefore, we need to give them campaign contributions so they can win control of all three bodies.

But they don’t need to win the White House, Senate, and House to stop our national suicide that they fully know is coming; all they have to do right now is nothing.   Nadda.  Not a thing.  But for all their denunciations of big government and out-of-control spending, too many of them are rather addicted to it themselves.  After all, how else are they supposed to win elections if they can’t promise the electorate more goodies from the government?

Enough already.  If Republicans cave and raise the debt ceiling, they must do so for the last time.  The only acceptable compromise would be for Congress to pass a five-year balanced budget plan such as that proposed by Newt Gingrich or Senator Rand Paul.  In exchange, Republicans would agree to raise the debt ceiling one last time to cover those five years, with automatic reductions in the debt ceiling scheduled to begin immediately thereafter.  Since there is no guarantee that Republicans will control either chamber of Congress or the White House in five years, supermajorities must be required to deviate from this “grand bargain.”

A real balanced budget begins and ends with a firm, immovable debt ceiling.  Either raise it one last time, or don’t raise at all.


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About the Author

Nathan W. Tucker
Nathan W. Tucker is a Davenport attorney and author of We The People: The Only Cure to Judicial Activism. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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