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Outside editorial: Raise the debt ceiling

Posted: May 22, 2011 - 9:29pm

The following editorial first appeared in the Kansas City Star:

Place a restaurant order and expect to pay the bill. That’s the circumstance facing the federal government. Dinner is over; the bill is owed. It’s the height of foolishness for Congress to think there is any way around raising the U.S. debt ceiling from $14.3 trillion. Running out on the check is not an option.

Members of Congress know this. If the debt ceiling is not raised, the United States cannot legally borrow. Not borrowing means no money for expenses including Social Security payments, employee paychecks, federal work contracts and more.

The greatest threat is that failing to raise the debt ceiling would lead to a federal debt default, which would crumble faith among those taking out American bonds, an event that Wall Street, the U.S. Treasury and financial agencies worldwide believe could lead to global economic chaos.

Consider this statement from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service: “To put this into context, the federal government would have to eliminate all spending on discretionary programs, cut nearly 70 percent of outlays for mandatory programs, increase revenue collection by nearly two-thirds, or take some combination of those actions in the second half of FY2011.”

The problem facing Congress is one of reality versus politics. Republicans are recklessly taking a stand against something that is necessary for fiscal health. But, by turning this into an issue on which they insist the United States has a choice (at least when they’re before cameras and microphones) they’ve created significant resistance among their base of voters. A recent Gallup Poll showed an astounding 70 percent of Republicans oppose raising the ceiling.

The Treasury Department is now borrowing from federal pensions to keep the government operating until Aug. 2. While needed to stop global financial chaos, this is not a smart long-term move. And it has costs as a short-term move: A similar impasse in 2002, lasting seven days, cost the government $18 billion in interest.

The GOP earlier this year threatened to shut down the government to get federal spending cuts that amounted to just more than twice that amount. Where is the sense in fighting for savings that are then wasted on political games?

The existing debt is the result of choices the nation made to deeply cut taxes and wage two expensive wars, as well as the deepest economic downturn this country has suffered since the Great Depression.

Congress must stop playing games and make it possible for the United States to pay its bills.

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