With the Treasury set to be unable to continue borrowing more Sept. 29, due to the debt limit, conservative lawmakers are looking ahead to what they should do.
“This is my third summer in Congress and it’s the same song and dance every year,” Rep. Mark Walker, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a caucus of conservative lawmakers in the House of Representatives, told The Daily Signal in a phone interview. The debt limit, or debt ceiling, is how much the nation can borrow.
Walker, a Republican from North Carolina, added:
We understand the ramifications of not raising the debt ceiling, but if we’re going to do that, then why not attach it to some long-term reforms? Not for the sake of just checking the box, but as Republican members to do our due diligence to make sure that we are decreasing the debt that we are leaving on future generations.
Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., told The Daily Signal that any debt increase should be paired with spending reductions elsewhere.
“If a clean debt limit is passed, it would be a wasted opportunity,” Biggs told The Daily Signal in a phone interview, referring to the practice of raising the debt limit without accompanying spending cuts.
“We need to be using the debt limit issue and start making meaningful and permanent deductions in spending … [to be] moving us toward a balanced budget.”
Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, is also wary of a debt increase without reform.
“The Freedom Caucus was urging, begging, just doing everything we could to get Republican elected leaders to bring the debt ceiling to the floor with some kind of cost control measure before August,” Gohmert said, adding:
We wanted those things done so they don’t wait until the twelfth hour and then say, ‘Hey, We’ve got no choice, we can’t default, you’ve got to vote for this or it’s your fault if the U.S. just goes under.’
Traditionally, conservatives have wanted spending cuts paired with any debt increase, which is what Republicans were able to negotiate in 2011 with the Budget Control Act, which was part of debt limit legislation.
The Budget Control Act was “passed in 2011 with the intention of reducing total spending by more than $2 trillion and controlling the growth of federal programs,” according to a commentary from Justin Bogie, a senior policy analyst in fiscal affairs at The Heritage Foundation.
President Donald Trump, however, has said that he wants a clean debt increase. In an Aug. 12 op-ed for the Washington Examiner, Walker wrote, “This ‘clean’ increase would simply increase the borrowing authority of the government while irresponsibly ignoring the urgency of reforms.”
“The administration has teed up for what they call a clean debt limit increase, which really means continue the status quo,” Romina Boccia, deputy director of the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal in an interview, adding:
They don’t want to cut spending, they don’t want to adopt spending controls, they just want Congress to raise the debt limit like they did under the Obama administration most times and not make a fuss about it.
Trump also faulted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for not attaching the debt limit legislation to a veterans bill that Congress recently passed.
I requested that Mitch M & Paul R tie the Debt Ceiling legislation into the popular V.A. Bill (which just passed) for easy approval. They…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 24, 2017
…didn't do it so now we have a big deal with Dems holding them up (as usual) on Debt Ceiling approval. Could have been so easy-now a mess!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 24, 2017
On Aug. 21, McConnell said, “There is zero chance—no chance—we won’t raise the debt ceiling. No chance.”
Congress modified the debt limit eight times through legislation during President Barack Obama’s administration. The Budget Control Act gave authority to Obama to raise the debt limit twice, which brings the total number of debt limit changes to 10 during Obama’s two terms in office.
Boccia said Congress could address the debt limit several ways.
“One approach is that they could peruse a short-term increase in the debt limit to buy time and then peruse the big bill, the big reconciliation bill that does tax reform and provides spending relief and fold the debt limit in with that,” Boccia said.
Another avenue to addressing the debt limit would be reforming entitlement programs, Boccia suggested, adding:
We need a limit on how much we can spend on these entitlement programs and that limit then forces the debate on what reforms are necessary to stay within that limit because right now they are unlimited, out of control, and they just continue growing and that’s what’s driving the debt and the growth in the debt.
The debt limit affects all citizens, as each household is responsible for between $145,000 and $146,000 of the debt, Walker said.
“We have a growing group of conservatives in the House—I know we do with the Republican Study Committee—that are just saying, ‘You know what, enough’s enough, it’s time to start attaching this to real reforms,’” Walker said.
Raising the debt limit without modifying spending is irresponsible, Biggs said.
“The debt limit is basically saying, ‘Let’s increase our revenue through borrowing, so we’re not going to do anything with regard to specific or generic reductions in spending,’” Biggs said. “I think that is a wasted opportunity.
“I would be in favor if we could attach a zero baseline budget provision in the debt ceiling that we will no longer have automatic increases in spending every year, then I would vote for the debt ceiling increase,” Gohmert said.