If some members of Congress have their way, this week’s clean debt ceiling suspension is just the beginning of a sustained effort to abdicate fiscal responsibility. “There’s a lot of talk in our conference,” Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) said yesterday, about the “old Gephardt Rule.”
What is the Gephardt Rule? It was a mechanism, concocted by former Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-MO) in 1979, that allowed for approval of legislation increasing the nation’s statutory debt limit without an actual vote in the U.S. House of Representatives. When Republicans took control of the House in 2011, they rightly eliminated the Gephardt Rule as part of their new rules package.
Why are Republicans now discussing a reversal of what was widely considered to be a conservative victory? Dent explained “there’s some discussion of returning to that standard so we don’t have to go through these debt ceiling dramas every so often.”
America established a statutory debt ceiling in 1917 as part of the Second Liberty Bond Act. According to the non-partisan Congressional Research Services, the debt ceiling “imposes a form of fiscal accountability that compels Congress and the President to take visible action to allow further federal borrowing when the federal government spends more than it collects in revenues.”
To put it another way, we have installed a smoke alarm in our nation’s fiscal house. If lawmakers believe it is dramatic to periodically determine whether or not the house is on fire, they should have the intellectual honesty to suggest we eliminate the nation’s debt ceiling.
The Wall Street Journal editorial page asks pointedly “Why continue the pretense of fighting over a debt limit that doesn’t limit debt?”
The Journal’s editorial writers are correct in that Americans do not want, nor do they deserve, a fake food fight over an issue as important as the nation’s $17.3 trillion debt. Where they get it wrong is the presumption we should no longer fight to put out the smoldering fire in our nation’s fiscal house.
Some today are criticizing Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) for refusing to allow the Senate to suspend the debt ceiling in an expedited process. Incredible. It’s bad enough to advocate resetting our nation’s smoke alarm and going back to bed while the children are asleep upstairs. Waiving the regular order of the Senate to take such an irresponsible step is beyond absurd.
Many in the Establishment are content with government on auto-pilot (apparently Athens is nice this time of year), but at some point taxpayers would be right to ask: if politicians want government on auto-pilot, why are we paying them?