Congress will only allow an increase in the statutory limit on the federal debt if it is joined with major reductions in spending, Congressman Jerry Lewis said Tuesday. Lewis joined all Republicans along with 81 Democrats in voting against allowing an increase in the debt without the spending cuts Tuesday.
"Congress certainly has a responsibility to ensure that the United States will pay its debts and meet its obligations, now and in the future -- but we have an equal responsibility to reducing that debt rather than simply agreeing to increase it indefinitely," Lewis said. "I cannot in good conscience vote to increase the federal debt limit without demanding spending reductions at the same time.
The federal debt was $8.5 billion in 2006 -- the last year that Republicans were the majority in the House and Senate. It has grown to nearly $14 billion in the past five years, and will reach the statutory limit of $14.29 billion sometime this summer, Lewis said.
The debt continues to increase because the federal government is spending more than it collects in taxes and other revenues. The federal spending deficit this year is anticipated to reach a record $1.6 billion, according to the Office of Management and Budget. If the government can't borrow, it will eventually not be able to pay interest on the debt or for some federal operations.
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and most economists warn that a default by the United States could threaten the stability of the national and global economy. But increasing revenues have already delayed the deadline for raising the limit a number of times -- the federal government could continue to operate for as long as six months by delaying some unnecessary expenditures, Lewis said.
"We are facing a federal debt crisis that could have even more dire consequences down the line than a delay in increasing the limit now," Lewis said. "The dangerously large federal debt has already caused Standard and Poors to issue a warning that U.S. credit could be down-graded if we do not get our debt in line. If we continue to borrow at the current pace, we will be paying more for interest on the debt than for any other government program besides defense and Social Security."
"I am confident that the Treasury Department can manage the nation's finances carefully in order to give Congress time to find spending reductions to combine with an increase in the debt limit," Lewis said. "I will work with my colleagues to ensure that we find a way to do both."