Biden views the debt ceiling as a staring contest with Republicans, not his duty as president

May 17, 2023

The "high-stakes game of chicken" has become a cliche headline in a town plagued by partisan paralysis. As we approach the "x" date concerning the debt ceiling, the lazy platitude has a scheduled appearance on your notification screen. But the comparison is incomplete. A game of chicken would imply the two parties hurtling toward each other, with the full faith and credit of the United States at the center. 

The reality is that Speaker McCarthy is at the table with a plan that avoids the crash while guiding the country to a course of fiscal safety. The president, however, views this as a staring contest, wetting his eyes with every crackpot legal theory at his disposal to avoid doing his job and negotiating. 

First, it’s important to note what the debt ceiling is and what it isn’t. It’s the statutory limit on the amount of debt the federal government can incur. It has been in place since 1917, and Congress has modified it over 100 times since World War II. The current limit is $31 trillion, a staggering amount nearly impossible to comprehend.

But the debt ceiling isn’t just a number. It’s a symbol of our country’s reckless fiscal trajectory. For decades, Washington has spent money it doesn’t have, piling on debt year after year. The result is an unsustainable debt burden that threatens to strangle our economy, cripple our ability to invest in national priorities and leave future generations holding the bag.

That’s why I and 42 of my colleagues in the Senate sent a letter to Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, stating our collective commitment to oppose raising the debt ceiling without substantive spending and budget reforms. 

This isn’t about playing political games or posturing. This is about the future of our country and the well-being of generations of American citizens. We cannot continue down the same path of reckless spending and mounting debt.

While some may argue that negotiating on the debt limit is reckless, history tells a different tale. 

In 1984, then-Senator Biden announced before voting against an increase in the debt limit that, "I cannot agree to vote for a full increase in the debt without any assurance that steps will be taken early next year to reduce the alarming increase in the deficits and the debt."

Or in 2011, when he said, "I have had the great honor of spending hours and hours and hours, as you’ve covered my negotiating the debt limit with the leaders of the Republican party."

Again in 2011, then-Vice President Biden helped negotiate the Budget Control Act, which facilitated an increase in the debt limit while capping discretionary spending.

Senator Schumer in 2017 bragged about using the debt limit as leverage to prevent increased funding for border security. 

Not to mention the time in 2019 when then-Speaker Pelosi said, "When we lift the caps, then we can talk about lifting the debt ceiling."

Where are the Democratic wheelers and dealers of yesteryear?

Of course, these solutions will be challenging. They require tough choices and trade-offs. The truth is that we can’t afford to kick the can down the road anymore. The time for action is now.

The ball is now in Biden’s court. The House has passed a bill to raise the debt limit in exchange for a series of desperately needed, responsible reforms. Yet the Democrats, including President Biden, have offered none of their own ideas. They’ve simply chosen to posture and peacock in response.

Rather than engage in the kind of dialogue that responsible governing demands, the administration appears more interested in flirting with dubious legal theories, such as minting a trillion-dollar coin or repurposing a civil war-era clause of the Constitution to avoid a good faith conversation with Speaker McCarthy. 

Biden’s own Treasury Secretary has called the 14th Amendment theory "legally questionable" and noted that pursuing this theory could lead to a constitutional crisis. To be clear, these theories aren’t merely "legally questionable," they’re constitutionally offensive, and would lead to further instability in our already fragile economy.

The 14th Amendment argument and the trillion-dollar coin theory are misguided attempts to sidestep the responsibility of Congress to manage the debt ceiling. The only responsible solution is for President Biden to negotiate with Republicans and find a solution that protects the economic stability of our country. The American people deserve leadership that is grounded in reality and the rule of law, not gimmicks and legal fiction.

Ultimately, this is more than just numbers on a balance sheet. It’s about the country we want to be and the future we want to build for ourselves and our children. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to get our fiscal house in order and put our country on a path to long-term prosperity.

As the clock ticks down towards another debt ceiling crisis, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless. But we can demand more from our leaders. We can demand that they act in the American people’s best interest. 

In the words of President Biden, "We're the United States of America. There's nothing beyond our capacity." 

Let's prove him right by coming together to avoid this fiscal cliff and build a brighter future for ourselves and future generations.

Op-ed originally published by Fox News