In response to the Obama Administration’s efforts to force a debt-ceiling increase, a number of Republicans and even a few Democrats have demanded spending cuts. Reducing short-term spending is important and enjoys widespread support among the American people, but raising the debt ceiling without fundamental, structural spending reforms would be a mistake.
Like many conservatives, I was disappointed by the spending cuts agreed to as part of the most recent continuing resolution. I was of course pleased that we were talking about how much to cut rather than whether to cut. Nevertheless, the final deal perpetuated our country’s debt problem, reducing spending by just $38 billion (much less than that, according to the Congressional Budget Office) in the face of a $1.65 trillion annual deficit. Worse, it did nothing to address the underlying reasons for our ballooning debt.
By some estimates, we would have to raise the debt ceiling by $738 billion in order to fund government at current levels through the end of this fiscal year. Even an additional $40 to $50 billion in spending cuts would be trivial when compared to our current deficit and our almost-$15 trillion debt. Those who insist that we have no choice in this matter ignore the grave risks associated with raising the debt ceiling yet again without making any serious effort to address the underlying problem. It would therefore be irresponsible to raise the debt ceiling without first adopting a reliable, binding mechanism—i.e., a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget—to end its perpetual expansion.
For that very reason, I will oppose any and every effort to raise the debt ceiling until Congress passes a balanced budget amendment and presents it to the States for ratification. I invite members of both political parties and both houses of Congress to join me (and a growing list of others) in making this pledge. Only by passing a balanced budget amendment can Congress credibly assure the American people that they won’t have to endure a repeat performance of the debt-ceiling charade every few months for the rest of their lives. Such fundamental reform would, moreover, send a positive signal to financial markets, help reaffirm the value of our currency, and put us on a path toward more meaningful and permanent spending reductions.
Now is the time to pass a balanced budget amendment. The amendment I have cosponsored with Senator Orrin Hatch has the support of the entire Senate Republican Conference. In March, a sense of the Senate resolution expressing the need for a balanced budget amendment attracted all 47 GOP Senators, plus 11 votes from Democrats, leaving us just 9 votes short of the 67 needed to pass a constitutional amendment.
A House version of the Hatch-Lee amendment is gaining momentum and, with a strong Republican majority in the House, the odds are good that it would receive significant support if brought to the floor for a vote. Americans overwhelmingly favor a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget. And unlike another short-term spending bill, it would not be subject to a presidential veto.
Some insist that we simply must raise the debt ceiling, and that a decision not to do so would be unthinkable. If those making that assertion really believe it, then they should be willing to make significant concessions in order to secure the votes of those who—like me—are equally convinced that the truly unthinkable consists of blindly extending the debt limit without permanently restricting Congress’s deficit-spending authority. The only way to do that is through a balanced budget amendment. I will continue to oppose any effort to raise the debt ceiling until Congress passes a balanced budget amendment. If every Republican will make the same pledge, we will pass a balanced budget amendment this year, effectively ending the era of perpetual deficit spending.
Mike Lee is a U.S. Seantor from Utah.